Largest (simulated) space battle ever

The massive multiplayer online game EVE Online has had the largest battle ever, with apparently about 4,000 players engaged and about 2,900 of their ships destroyed in more than five hours.

The combat is fake, but the emotions are real"
By Ellis Hamburger

I don't understand some details (I was never an EVE Online player), but it appears that the alliance which was on the strategic offensive (grabbing territory) was a bit numerically superior and also vastly superior on the tactical level.

credit: shenanigans144/Imgur
The preparations of the battle included a very disadvantageous defender position because its best options for safe withdrawal were eliminated, the early attack did put the defender into a dilemma in which he chose the 2nd worst option and still early on in the battle the attackers succeeded to take down multiple crucial command and control units (players). The attackers were apparently also capable of saturating the defensive strength of the defender better than he did.
Finally, when the biggest and ridiculously expensive ships were sent into battle by the attacker, the morale of the defenders was broken and they fled, accepting horrible casualties in the process. They did nevertheless launch an unusual and excessively costly last stand counter-attack with some forces.

EVE Online is interesting because it's a "sandbox"-type game, with developers leaving many aspects to the players. As such, it's the equivalent of a free-play exercise, not of a very scripted one. It has succeeded in replicating many known elements of actual warfare (strategy and tactics), politics, diplomacy, economics and espionage this way. All groups in-game are self-organised, huge fleets have formed, gained cohesion and discipline, prepared and applied tactics, trained newcomers - all in a couple years and out of nothing. The degree of sophistication was already very high after very few years after launch of the game.

This is certainly something to keep an eye on in the long term. Such simulations may not only offer great opportunities for behaviour researchers of various fields, but they might also help to give people experience. Negotiators, leaders, trainers, planners, maybe traders could learn something about their actual job in such harmless and almost free simulations.



Summary: Defence and Freedom military theory posts

There is a tag "Military Theory" on many blog posts on Defence and Freedom, and after six years of blogging I'm in the mood for a summary about this kind of posts.
I blame the high temperature which keeps me awake this late.

My first attempt to point out how misleading the use of the words "winner", winning", "victory", "victorious" usually is. The official "winning" party of a war is usually worse off than it would be if it had avoided the war. The winner is the lesser loser.
This is an important insight, and should be remembered especially once there's the next political campaign for a war of choice.

My first post pointing out my approach for combat against a high tech opponent: Be elusive, if possible undetected almost all the time. I repeated this a lot over the years.
People get easily amazed at hat sensors our troops have at their disposal. Less people think about what the very same troops should do if they face the very same sensors in hostile hands.

Another post notable for a 'first'. It offers a very rough sketch only, but mentions "skirmishers", a key word which plays an important role in much of what I wrote later on (though much of it was never published). The choice of this word was inspired by a '97 article which Javelin teams in a delay mission skirmishers. Ever since, I struggled with the problem that the word isn't a perfect match for my purposes.

Being a history-fuelled guy, I cannot but notice the similarities between our situation and the situation around 1900. This was the first hint at this.

I revisited a lot. The reason is that manoeuvre elements of modern armies are becoming smaller. Battlegroups with independent mission are now more likely to be a few companies rather than a regiment or brigade. There is also a (limited) move towards protected (armoured), but not very heavy combat vehicles.
The combination of both means that the armoured reconnaissance detachments of old have become better analogies for much in modern mobile warfare than the tank divisions of old.

I didn't frame or call it this way, but this was really the first display of my concept about repertoires in warfare. The enemy can take cover behind a wall? Add a weapon to reach him there, too. At the time, I wrote about this in the combined arms framework instead,

This is one of several posts (not the first one) pointing out that lessons from recent conflicts may be very misleading in future conflicts. I thought (think) that many people are too uncritical about the impressions left by recent conflicts. Again, it helps to have read accounts from historical wars and being able to compare with what happened in the following wars.

Infantry Fighting vehicles are an accident of history in my opinion, but the concept is a successful one if measured by its ability to dominate doctrines. The Israelis have the only modern army with no interest in IFVs. I wrote this article with a 90's article about NGP (German armour concept studies of the early 90's) and WW2 experiences as well as technical Cold War era developments in my mind.

Almost nobody pays attention to me, so I got away with pointing out something favourable about flamethrowers. It's a typical text, attempting to shine some light on something non-intuitive, non-superficial yet noteworthy. I wrote plenty such blog posts over the years.

A typical text as well, since I basically called for modesty. Many people get easily carried away by the fascination of power, ability. Restrictions, limits, trade-offs, scarcity - they exist, but are pure joy-killers.
I suppose modesty is often the advisable path. Those who pursue 100% solutions and cannot resist temptations tend to end up in costly troubles. I play this tune also in regard to military budgets, for example.

This blog text did in part pay some tribute to Luttwak, but also points out a paradox he did not mention: Sometimes less destruction may cause the enemy to be more willing to yield than more destruction. This may appear counter-intuitive, but only so if one falls for the sunk costs fallacy, which became a recurring theme in my blog posts in  itself.

This combines the aforementioned concerns about exaggerating lessons from recent wars (neglecting lessons from others) and the modesty theme. The attempt to eliminate accident casualties may actually be a terrible trade off, as combat casualties (and mission failures) may rise as a consequence.

This may actually be a most important topic in the future due to urbanisation. A dirty red container is easily a better camouflage in a city than a green-black-brown one. This theme became a recurring one as well, I even applied it to a naval example later on.

This is where I became serious about military theory. It's an early centrepiece of my "skirmishing" ideas(s). It served me well, as I was able to skip much typing over the years in personal communication: I simply linked to this blog posts instead of writing it all again and again. This is one of the advantages if you run a blog.
This blog post was probably my first really serious attempt to contribute to the art of war.

This combines Clausewitzian thought with my framework about repertoires in warfare; again before I even published the latter.

I revisited this not much later on.Our top-down assignment of leaders is probably a leftover from long-gone feudal societies. There may be niches in which a kinda democratic bottom-up choice of leaders is superior.

2009-12 Opportunities
I revisited this 'opportunities' thing recently, but I actually like this old blog text much better.

Few people read von Clausewitz' "Vom Kriege" book completely, and you better put to good use what you learned by doing so. I pointed out the difference between the modern CoG and the original Schwerpunkt idea. This is another blog post which i have referenced many times over the years.

2010-01 Repulsion
This was inspired by a remark about infantry firepower read in an old book. I came up with an entire concept and attempted to give it a name. It is basically yet another way of looking at weapon systems, and once again it's counter-intuitive.

The definitive summary of my concept about repertoires in war and the suppression thereof. it's a way of looking at war and most of what it's composed of. I have a feeling some gifted authors could write a successful book based on this kind of idea alone.

The same general theme as already in 2007-11, but more.

Some Bobba Fett jetpacks or powered Starship Trooper exoskeletons would really go a long way solving the extra trouble in mountain warfare. I didn't really come up with any spectacular ideas, but I stubbornly rejected the option of declaring helicopters to be a cure-all.

It's but one example of me thinking about what's a good idea for a small power. Most military theory talk elsewhere is (if it happens at all) about how great powers can kick ass the best.

I attempted to make use of martial arts knowledge here, but the post is more remarkable for spelling out one of my convictions clearly: "reaking contact on short notice with few losses is an important core skill (...)". Easier said than done. I pushed this even farther (and I think also earlier) in regard to infantry, asserting that breaking contact (or observation) should happen after two minutes in order to avoid hits by hostile indirect fire support.

Another attempt of highlighting something counter-intuitive

Counter-intuitive conclusions, as usual.

A bit air power scepticism coupled with a proposal to push for proper cooperation by giving both teams good bargaining chips.

The first time I explained my idea of horizontal cooperation semi-properly. Horizontal cooperation (as opposed to the top-down linear organisation) is a pet topic of mine. It has been introduced in the business world (some large corporations push for direct cooperation across departments instead of requiring the detour through the respective superiors). Western military bureaucracies may find much room for improvement if they look more intensely at this.

The modesty theme in new clothes.
A very important thing about low force density scenarios (another favourite topic of mine).

"Readiness" is another lens for looking at military issues, especially if you use a broad definition of readiness. It's quite similar tot he "unfair advantage" theme, but saying "readiness" leads more easily to a couple conclusions than saying "unfair advantage".

A critical view on one of the more tricky military concepts, and some probably original thoughts about it.

Low force density in a theatre of war means no front lines can (and will) be maintained. A most interesting topic, especially as many modern ground warfare doctrines only pay lip service to the issue and don't really offer definitive answers for how to substitute for the missing front lines.
The first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem.

Basically the attempt of creating a list of what's important in regard to artillery, and it's much longer than most sources would want us to believe.

My blog post about unfair advantages as the purpose of tactics et cetera. It's also noteworthy for a key quote: "(...) battles should be among the least interesting episodes of a skilful campaign. Battles should be pretty much decided prior to their initiation. The real challenge is ahead of a battle." 

My definitive blog post on sniping.

Air wars were different and delivered seemingly conflicting observations. This is my definitive blog post about strategic air warfare and I still think it's consistent and quite comprehensive. Its key was to pay attention to the psyche of the hostile political leadership.

It's generalising, but not useless.

I chose only one post later than summer '12 for this summary. The character of the blog posts about military theory changed away from suitability for this summary in part because I had my book project (occasionally) running in the background and saved some ideas for it.

The summary is long enough any way - I hope you feel provoked to look up some old stuff. Many if not most of my blog posts could have been written a decade earlier or a decade later - it wouldn't make much of a difference in regard to the content. The chronology of the blog posts is thus not very important. Some old ones are actually better than some new ones.

P.S.: The list is not complete. Click on "Military Theory" in the tags list on the left for the complete list.


Quality improvement

A quick (true) tale first; sometime in the mid-90's I read an official statement in one of the Bundeswehr's publications that the infantry shall be improved. At that time, this didn't primarily mean to add batteries, cables and electronics to the kit. The author instead stated the new ambition of having infantry squads lead by a non-commissioned officer of Feldwebel rank. Feldwebel were at that time quite reliable NCOs who didn't only complete the basic NCO course, but also completed a more ambitious Feldwebel course. The author wanted Feldwebel to lead infantry squads because this would be an improvement of leadership.

Well, the military bureaucracy did as bureaucracies usually do: It obeyed and met the requirement. The only problem; they had magic wand and couldn't magically create (competent) Feldwebel by the hundreds.
So they made means meet ends and watered down what being a Feldwebel meant. Today's average Feldwebel doesn't command as much respect as the average 1980's Feldwebel did, that's for sure.
I also heard (or read) about a similar phenomenon in the U.S. school system. Sometime in the 60's the government declared a goal of everyone graduating high school. Decades later, this goal was met - but a high school diploma didn't mean that much any more.

These are but examples of a general problem and terrible misunderstanding.
NEVER EVER push for more quality by increasing the quantity of quality *wink*Special Forces */wink*. Such a move only waters down the quality you know and value so much.

Instead, always push for higher quality of what you have in quantity. In the Feldwebel example, one could have improved the training of the Unteroffizier and Stabsunteroffizier ranks who led squads if no Feldwebel was doing so. Greater ambition for what you have in great quantity cannot hurt so much. In worst case you would send your junior NCOs to a poorly resourced six-week course. The quality of the established Feldwebel group could hardly suffer by this (unless you cannibalise training resources).

This was a typical 'now you can remember this and over the next years look if you can spot more examples, maybe prevent some' blog post. Maybe it's good for something.



National vitality, growth, military power and consumption

I'll connect several threads here in order to explain a very, very important facet of history and the current global situation. I personally rate this blog post much higher than most, as evidenced by me tagging it "Selection".

Ludwig Erhard
Back in the 50's and early 60's West Germany's economy grew at an incredible pace. It did not recover from WW2 - that had been done at a breakneck speed till about '52 already. In the 50's and early 60's it became prosperous instead. The minister of economics of that period, Ludwig Erhard, wrote a book "Wohlstand für alle" - "Prosperity for all" in '57. He wrote it without knowledge of all the economic theories explaining the performance and it's thus kind of antiquated now. He did nevertheless include a grain of great wisdom: It is easier to distribute newly gained income (wealth) than to re-distribute already distributed wealth. Income distribution is thus easiest in times of great growth.
That's what he did; early on the government favoured capitalists having big profits so they could save and invest much. Later on, it made sure the workers got their fair share through fair negotiations between labour unions and employer unions. This was the founding of a strong German middle class, of prosperity and (material) wealth for almost all (West) Germans.
It's a model which only broke down with the "Agenda 2010" reforms of the Social Democrats (in name only) in 2003/04.

Solow Swan model
One of the theories explaining the rapid growth of the 50's and 60's much, much better than the established myths (which focus on hard work, trade and Marshall plan much more than appropriate) is the exogenous growth model of Solow/Swan. It's simple by today's standards, but it's also at the core of the basic trend of great growth during the 50's and 60's.
It basically says that capital investments go into replacing existing capital stock (as it gets depreciated / worn out) and adding to the capital stock. The capital stock enables economic output in combination with plenty skilled labour.
Germany in the late 40's still had plenty skilled labour despite the war casualties, but its capital stock was crashed. On top of this, technology kept advancing throughout the 40's, so there was even more to catch up to. The effect was that Germany had to do little replacement capital investments (as its capital stock was rather small) and did much capital investment to increase output capacity (as intended by the government, see above). This lead to a rapid growth of capacity, which in turn led to a rapid growth of output.

Let's look at income distribution as just a generic kind of distribution. A government could allocate resources to military buildup instead of to consumption and the outcome would be about the same in monetarised output capacity and output. Public consumption would crowd-out private consumption.

Joining both threads, and the latest remark, we can see how upcoming economies have an ability to distribute resources for a military build-up which is unknown to established developed economies. This explains the ease with which Germany was able to build up a first rate battleship fleet (in parallel to maintaining a first rate army) prior to 1914; it was in a phase of rapid industrial growth, being an industrial revolution late-comer. Germany did quite the same during the late 30's ('36-'39) when it recovered at a rapid pace from the great depression (the Nazis rather slowed this down than helping it). The Soviet Union did the same during the 1930's and even during the 50's and 60's - it only ran out of steam in the late 70's when it lost the characteristic of an upcoming economy. Japan was also easily able to allocate much of its economic power to the build-up and maintenance of military power during the late industrial revolution and the Interwar Years.
Plenty countries took a different turn and grew for prosperity instead of for military power. Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea post-WW2 as well as (so far) China, India, Brazil and Turkey come to my mind as examples.

Some powers have gained a place in history books as upcoming powers of great vitality, able to allocate a huge amount of resources into aggressive capabilities. 
I believe I did largely explain this phenomenon by combining Erhard's confirmed insight about how gains are easier to distribute than legacy wealth and the Solow-Swan model describing why countries far below their economic potential (largely defined by their people's skills and work ethic) have high growth rates.

Now how to make use of this?
We could conclude that it's of great importance to influence upcoming countries in order to funnel their output gains into capital investment ultimately for consumption and into consumption itself. The more of their gains they allocate to military capacity, the more potential for aggression they will grow and the more likely are excessively wasteful, stupid wars.
Let's seduce them with iPhones, Mercedes-Benz E class and Coca Cola. Every buck they spend on consumption is a buck they could almost as easily spend on their military.

One way to influence them towards a focus on consumption instead of on military capacity would be to develop and distribute a convincing argument against the stupid coupling of gross domestic product and military spending.
A country with a GDP of one trillion may spend 2% of its GDP on the military - 20 billion. Now let's say they grow during a decade to a GDP of two trillion. Why would anyone believe that the country - having deterred aggressions with a budget of 20 billion - would now 'need' a budget of 2% x 2 trillion = 40 billion?
It wouldn't ceteris paribus, since modern warfare isn't about stealing wealth any more. The Mongol hordes, greedy Romans and conquistadores aren't amongst us any more.
Upcoming countries should not feel the need for more military power than the one which served them well when they were poor. They certainly shouldn't be enticed to focus on military might.

An end to the %GDP discussions about military budgets might actually serve our national security interests in a most powerful way.



Assorted quick remarks

(1) Egypt, Turkey

The Egyptian military appears to have learnt a lesson from the Turkish military's experience with the AKP. They didn't want to tolerate a slow descend into political impotence in a near-theocracy.

There is more to it, though: The Turkish military appears to have hoped for Turkey joining the EU and getting secularised and modernised enough by the process. A coup against the AKP would have shattered this hope (it's shattered now anyway). The Egyptian military on the other hand has the U.S. subsidies as its only substantial link to the Western world - and it knew with good confidence that the U.S. didn't like the Egyptian government too much.

The third reason for the coup in Egypt appears to be that the Egyptian military has too much to lose. It's not just power, or autonomy - it's economical. The Egyptian military has a vast network of industrial enterprises, which no doubt funnel a lot of cash into the inevitably corrupt military's (army's?) senior officer corps. This is similar to the situation in North Korea, China and likely some other places (I suspect Myanmar, but I'm not sure).

One could memorise these factors and stay alert; maybe some military coup in the next two decades will be utterly predictable with this in mind.
Or future governments learn from these examples. The policies and signals of some future elected government in a similar position as Mursi's may become understandable as reaction to the recent events, too.

Western governments may also learn from these events that offering a substantial link and advantages may avert a military coup in a transitioning country in general.

(2) "relevance"

There's some talk about how landing a drone on a carrier proves a navy's or its carrier fleet's "relevance".
This word - "relevance" - basically triggers an alarm in me if uttered in a military context. 
The U.S. Army used it a lot in '99-'02 when it went all nuts about not having joined the Kosovo party as a useful guest. The whole Stryker armoured truck and "air-deployability" hype was the result. Next, the very same army found itself in a very slow force build-up, conventional invasion and an almost decade-long fucked-up occupation.

A panicking military bureaucracy does stupid things. 
More stupid than usual.

(3) MilBlogs
Military-related blogs pop up and disappear (even the biggest one, Wired's Danger Room, appears to have ceased operation). Six years of "Defence and Freedom" (originally "Defense and Freedom" before I decided to use only British English, thus the URL) did spectacularly fail in one thing: Motivating the creation and operation of somewhat similar blogs.
Blogging about the "how-to", alternative and critical perspectives, or even counter-warmongering MilBlogging are still very rare. Especially on count one and three.

It appears as if  one-man-show MilBlogging is a poor idea in general. Many MilBlogs which appeared and disappeared were run by single authors, and they usually didn't come close to produce the consistent quality and quantity of posting for a breakthrough.

Maybe something in between weblog and forum is required; something which allows both regular and guest bloggers to publish their stuff.
It goes without saying that I'd only be in favour if the output isn't warmongerish. I should thus be really glad about the lack of such a platform, for warmongerish bloggers are still a dominant majority. Even otherwise civil people are easily enticed into favouring some application of explosives if none of "us" would be hurt in the process. As if there wasn't always some backlash anyway.



Commodities and war

By David Kocieniewski, NYT

Some people (idiots) believe it's reasonable to send troops and even tell them to fight in order to keep the price of commodities down and access unlimited. I wonder what measures these people think are appropriate in the equivalent case exposed in the article above.
Will they raise their voices at all?


P.S.: I'm in  writing mood and have the time. Some posts are scheduled to avoid three or more posts jammed into a single day. A particularly "good one" (IMO) is scheduled for 26th.

Germany and its navy these days (or "in the 21st century")

I admit, I'm a land warfare centric guy - kind of typical German. British folks tend to pay much more attention to naval affairs.

Look at how I tagged my blog posts; Army (202), Air Force (80, actually applied to air power topics in general) and Navy (58). One might conclude I neglect naval affairs, and not only so because they're terribly technology-dependant and thus difficult to decipher.

Well, from a German point of view, does this really constitute neglect? Or is the navy probably not that important to us?

German military history clearly taught a couple lessons.
(a) Germany doesn't win wars at sea.
(b) There's no way a geographically disadvantaged country as Germany could secure its maritime lines of communication against a potent naval opposition.
(c) Even geographically advantaged countries need a gargantuan effort to at least keep the loss rate of their maritime trade acceptable if challenged (the quantity of escort and patrol assets used in both world wars dwarfs the naval strength of even combined NATO navies).

Technology shows us that coastal defence on the other hand can be done with land-based assets efficiently. A single battery of anti-ship missiles inland could hit ships on the horizon of all German beaches. Same for a wing of combat aviation.

Today's submarine force - in both world wars an the tool of choice for challenging maritime transportation if it couldn't be done more overtly) cannot play its classic role. The alliance situation has changed, we're not going to challenge British convoys  any time soon.

The German naval strength is thus in my opinion mostly an unessential addition to the alliance's total naval strength. It's fair that we contribute to the alliances' efforts for securing maritime shipping, of course (albeit I doubt providing a couple frigates is the best way to do so).
It could not become an essential part of deterrence or collective defence - unlike quickly deployed manoeuvre brigades and even combat aviation.

I suppose I will keep neglecting the German navy and naval topics in general.



German intelligence policy woes - the political side

The published and likely also the public opinion about the German government's role in regard to allies spying on us is quite negative.
Foreign intelligence services are not doing a small stunt here; they violate a constitutional right of ours (established in a federal supreme court ruling three decades ago in the context of a West German census) and commit crimes according to our criminal code.
Our government tolerated this and government agencies were glad to brazenly enjoy the fruits of these foreign crimes, circumventing their own legal restrictions this way.

It's really business as usual and what was to be expected, but sunlight made it more visible and it's summer, so the shitstorm began. On top of this, there's a federal election in September - THE federal election. We elect our parliament and through the parliament our federal government including chancellor regularly only once every four years.

The issue shows one fundamental problem of our political system, though: We're highly dissatisfied with a small share of our government's work and can vote. Now what?

We cannot vote specifically on the subject (federal plebiscites don't happen, although the constitution is compatible with them - the law to regulate plebiscites doesn't exist).

We cannot force change by voting for other parties (disregarding the other 99.x % of policy topics) because the others did the exact same thing when in government. The only party in parliament which did not tolerate the crap so far is the successor of the East German totalitarian police state actual Stasi pseudo-socialists.
We could vote for the new anti-European currency party (which is otherwise close tot he conservatives in its political program) which is likely to get around 3% of the vote and not make it past the 5% barring clause. We could vote for the pirate party, but they're just as disorganised internally as the anti-Euro party and will likely not make it to the 5% either.

Even if we voted for a party with a contra stance, it would end up at less than 10% (since the established ones aren't contra) and this intelligence policy thing is a typical case where small new parties would sacrifice principles to get into a government coalition because the establishment considers support for the status quo as a requirement for displaying maturity for governance.

Maybe the way to go is to introduce a direct democratic election of the Public Prosecutor General of the Federal Court of Justice office. This way we might at least get the justice system to prosecute the criminals counter to the political establishment's intent.

Being dissatisfied with the government and having no practical way to vent it through voting makes one feel a bit less like living in a democracy - especially if one knows that one's not exactly alone.


[Blog] Spammers

Yesterday I was terminally fed up with spammers and proposed to Steve from the Firearms Blog (where I dump a lot of firearms-related stuff that I don't want to write about here) to call out their advertisement spamming practices.



Small army - dedicated scouts?

"Jed" contributed an article to the Think Defence blog titled "Time to Cancel FRES SV?", a very UK-specific question (with an answer) as is so typical of TD. Let me translate into global English:
Should a small or modestly-sized army procure specialised armoured scout vehicles?
The ASCOD IFV version a.k.a. "FRES SV"
Well, what does a scout? It's more close to he enemy forces than one's main force, senses and reports. That's its core mission and characteristic in action, albeit armoured recce can do much more. Obviously, any armoured vehicle can be used for scouting. Back in '91 the CVR(T) tankettes were supposed to scout, but the Challenger tanks' sensors were so much superior and the field of view in Iraq so much unimpeded that being more close to the enemy was of no use and the tank companies were able to rely on their own senses.

Normal combat vehicles can do the same job (as is most obvious in the case of FRES SV, which really resembles the Warrior combat vehicle a lot). Why should a dedicated, specialised vehicle be procured?
The answer which has become so self-evident that few still think about it is that specialised assets offer specialisation advantages; a division of labour advantage.

Well, I phrased the question with emphasis on small or modestly-sized armies, and this is where it becomes interesting.
As a rule of thumb, specialisation works better for large organisations. This is trivial with very small ones; a total force of ten vehicles cannot make use of 30 platform variants, for example. A force of 1,000 vehicles better not make use of 30 variants either, though. The fixed costs of adding a variant are nearly the same for a small or a large force, and are severe if you develop your own kit and have an poorly performing bureaucracy.
More specialisation instead of multi-purpose assets also leads to fragility instead of resilience: A battalion with two recovery vehicles is much more fragile than one with a recovery winch and some mats on half of the vehicle fleet. Twice bad luck and its recovery ability would be reduced to improvisation.

"Small or modestly-sized armies" should thus be wary of a great degree of division of labour at least in their platforms.

Does this mean the UK should not procure FRES SV? Not necessarily. It depends on how you approach modern warfare. There is no nature's law that combat troops are the main force. Maybe the support forces (including artillery) are the main force in this context and the troops who resemble the classic combat troops are dispensable. Maybe in the age of radio communications and long-range precision or area fires the scout is indispensable, not the main battle tank? Desert and steppe warfare offer simple scenarios in which this doesn't sound entirely ridiculous. The French intervened in Mali mostly with armoured reconnaissance (or 'cavalry') forces, not with a tank brigade.
Other modern conventional warfare scenarios tend to feature a very low ratio of troops to area as well, and again combat-worthy scouts may appear less dispensable than main battle tanks, for example.

Keep in mind that scouts in the shape of armoured cavalry as practised by the Americans, French and British are rather combat-worthy. Such forces can handle a wide range of combat mission as long as neither brute force nor a substantial infantry component are necessary.

An army as small as Denmark's could be better off focusing on armoured cavalry battalions than to focus on a manoeuvre brigade capability.

Small powers' forces design is an interesting topic and gets little publicity. As a rule of thumb, I suggest to go multi-purpose in small forces. Today's multi-purpose isn't necessarily much reminiscent of grandpa's multi-purpose, though.



Military spending and the lifesaving argument

... What the defense secretary is saying is that if defense sequestration stays on track, U.S. forces could be defeated in future wars, and more warfighters than necessary might die.  Maybe thousands.  Maybe tens of thousands.  Why?  Because the force will not be trained and equipped to the level required to prevail against technologically advanced adversaries.  You know — the kind of adversaries who haven’t been challenging us lately because America’s military has the best training and technology in the world...
"The Bottom Line On Defense Sequestration: Warfighters Will Die" Forbes Op-Ed by Loren Thompson.
Hat Tip SWJ

I remember the U.S. government has guidelines for valuing human life (of its citizen). It's up to about nine million bucks (celebrities and rich people are worth more, of course).
That's how much you spend at most per life you assume to save with your action in the U.S. - be it seawalls, drugs, seatbelt regulation or other policies.

This may sound cynical, but this is a world of scarcity, and paying more than these millions to save one life means to reject saving at least as many lives elsewhere, since all budgets are limited.

Now assume the doomsday claim is true and 10,000 soldiers will die within the next decade if not more is spent on the military (ignoring of course that the military bureaucracy should probably learn to spend cash more efficiently).

10,000 lives - that's 90 billion bucks at most. For a decade. So nine billion bucks annually (ignoring interest rate effects). Assuming a bad case and the upper boundary of valuations. It could also be 4 billion and 0.4 billion using the other extremes.

I am sure Mr. Thompson thought his "(...)thousands.  Maybe tens of thousands" point would be strong enough to justify a bigger spending increase. It doesn't - even if we assume he's correct about the consequences.

Again, this may sound cynical, but it's simply realistic. A common problem in the U.S. is that too much is not being done that should be done while astonishingly many resources are being poured into the military. It's only natural that even the slightest attempt to make a rational calculation about mil spending confirms this.

Here are two cheap, yet very valuable hints about military spending and wartime KIA in the U.S.:
(1) Don't do wars of choice so no soldiers will die in wars of choice.
(2) Focus on the efficiency of spending instead of doing the primitive thing of throwing more resources at the (imaginary) problem.


P.S.: I don't remember anything good about Mr. Thompson. His employer the Lexington Institute has a reputation of cheerleading on demand of paying arms manufacturers and building a facade of credibility by criticising projects of arms manufacturers who don't pay them.


[Blog] Some general remarks about perspectives

Several discussions I had were about a fundamental disagreement on assumptions.

There is an in-service point of view where one gets his orders and has to follow them. These orders include or imply certain assumptions, such as 'the deployment is going to happen/continue'. One's job is then to think and act accordingly, taking this assumption as exogenous and fixed.

As a citizen and not on active duty at the time (and this includes all active duty personnel on vacation, at leisure time or on free days) it's a folly to stick to these assumptions.

OF COURSE there's no nature's law determining those assumptions. They are arbitrary. The question what's best is not restricted by such assumptions. 
One may come to a conclusion that it's best to not deploy troops at all.

Now the confusing thing is when people don't leave their at-work-attitude and assumptions or even accept such assumption without being on such a job. Why would anyone do this (other than for a tendency to obey authorities)?

The on-the-job attitude of military personnel is (save for the demotivated ones) a 'can do' attitude. Once ordered, they're expected to do it and one grows an attitude of 'can do'. This is fine - within its limits. It's a stupid thing to have in political discussions, for example.


Another topic about blog posts and (possible) misunderstandings:

I do at times post models or frameworks about how to look at issues differently. Economists get trained at universities to look at the topics from the previous post through the lens of market forms, not power asymmetries, for example. I thought that this "market form -> magic black box -> shape of curve on diagram" approach is unsatisfactory and focused on power asymmetries, which are really said magic from the black box. Economists usually shy away from mentioning or thinking about power in markets; so far I've encountered but one professor who did it. Still, I thought it's a useful addition to the viewpoints available to us.

These ways of looking at the topic are not necessarily all-round superior to common ways of doing it; they are instead meant to add to them, to complement and to unlock some potential for improvement that's left.



[Economics] We systematically underestimate poor countries' economies

Yesterday I read a blog post by Paul Krugman and was astonished; how could he write of South Asian sweatshop workers as if they had a low productivity?
Sure, in raw turnover per hour they have a low productivity, but that's not why they earn almost nothing.

Two generations ago there were two kinds of tailors in Germany: Industrial workers (mostly females) who produced most clothing and craftsmen (also many females) who mostly customised and repaired clothes.
Today there's almost only the latter kind left. Very few of the former were replaced by robots (for production of curtains, for example), while most lost their jobs to foreign low wage country workers.

Now why did the (few) craftsmen tailors survive in this sector in Germany? The common answer is that customising and repair cannot be outsourced to South Asia, for example.
But that's not what's really interesting, and it doesn't explain why there is such a huge difference in income between tailors in Germany and in Bangladesh.
They still don't earn well in Germany, of course - unless you apply Bangladesh's standards.

The reason why they 'earn' so much more here than there is about power. Bargaining power is a huge input to market prices. If in doubt, check the economic theories about monopolies et cetera.
The customising and repairing tailors in Germany do not compete with Bangladeshi workers, so their bargaining power is not diminished and they can actually get a decent price for their services.
They couldn't do so any more once they would compete with Bangladeshi workers. Their bargaining power would be diminished, their revenues and thus income would drop to a level where they could barely afford one noodle meal per day for it in Germany and they would be forced out of their job.
The services (customising, repair) which are now still worth a couple Euro per hour would drop in 'value' to cents, as the powerless workers of Bangladesh can survive on this level of income and are not forced out of their job if paid so poorly.

Is the productivity of a factor tailor in Bangladesh really much inferior to a German tailor's?
Certainly not. It's the structure of market power and the exportability of their product which diminished the revenues for their output and thus their income. The very same work and output would be worth much more if it was done by Germans in a protected German clothes market - even if the German tailors would only work a fraction as quickly.

Oligopolistic market structures which benefited wealthy countries' workers fell away with trade liberalisation. Other workers lost bargaining power due to busting or erosion of labour unions. The result was in many sectors that the labour input into production became much cheaper, even though the actual generation of value (appreciation of the product or service by consumers) did not change much.
In some cases this primarily reduced the share of labour income and increased the share of capital income (and high level executives' incomes) in the market. It appears as if most cases went a different path, though: The reduced input costs coupled with fierce sales price competition reduced the price of the final product very much (also relative to GDP/capita). Monetary means of measuring output reflect this as a huge drop in produced value, which it isn't if we understand value as 'utility' or 'valuation by customers'. Consumer rents were increased, but the loss of income among workers considerably reduced this improvement on the national level.

Such market dynamics - especially the widely neglected factor of power asymmetries between agents in a market - coin the global economy. We think of Bangladesh's economy as low output because power asymmetries diminished the prices (not really 'value') of its outputs.

We should keep this in mind when we think about the capabilities of low GDP countries. Purchasing power parity exchange rates don't even come close to compensate for this issue.

We underestimate the value of economic output of low wage countries.


edit: It took me a while to notice, but now I noticed that I edited all the actually wonkish stuff out while it was sill in draft stage. Everything should be generally understandable now.


[Fun] CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

The 'Gatherer and Hoarder' instincts of Intelligence services are again facing scrutiny, after some of them went hunting and the ways thereof already didn't meet many peoples' tastes.

Truth be told: The allegations aren't really new, although they were made "news" recently. Even if they were new; I would probably not write about them these days because this is no news blog. Posts on D&F can equally be about a topic obsolete for two thousand years, about insights from a few generations ago, something which happened in the last few years or weeks or something which merely happened to come to my mind when I was in the mood for typing.
Such as while sitting at 28°C past midnight at home and having no real hope for falling asleep any time soon.

Anyway; here's finally something intelligence-related from DandF* these days, and hat tip to 'Brant'.


*: The software messes up the "and" symbol all the time and I dislike using the + symbol if "and" is what I really mean.


Opportunity in war

Back in the days of mechanical weapons like swords and axes, the approaches to combat differed probably even more than today. This was certainly so when it comes to clashes between small groups of men.

One approach - example mid Republican to early Imperial Roman (heavy) infantry -  featured a huge shield as a most visible equipment. The scutum varied in shape over the centuries (early shape; see my top banner), but it was always a shield which permitted its user to cover himself almost entirely with it. This was actually quite possible with round shields (even the Germanic kind) as well, but the scutum was practically made for it.
This shield in combination with a decent helmet (the Roman legionary helmets became very sophisticated) allowed the infantryman to survive even ferocious attacks quite well.
A legionary with such a shield did not need to emphasise offensive action; he could wait till there was an opportunity for stabbing the enemy with his sword or till another legionary stabbed the same in a flanking attack. Opportunities were used, but it wasn't necessary to actively create opportunities to win.

Warriors using two-handed weapons and still lacking the sophisticated and superb armour of late medieval times were very different. Long axes (once popular especially in Northern Europe) or romphaia two-hand sickle swords (Thracia; ~ ancient Romania/Bulgaria) enabled and forced a different style of combat.  Users of such weapons would hack at their enemy's shield or helmet, split these defensive means and thus create opportunities (if especially the hit on the head wasn't decisive in itself).

OK, so far a nice analogy for other cases of waiting for opportunities / forcing the creating of opportunities, but forget about fitting the phalanx into his framework - it doesn't work. The phalanx was probably about winning without needing much of an opportunity.

The traditional division of combat is between offensive action and defensive (in)action. I suppose another perspective for looking at it is a division between opportunity-creating and opportunity-awaiting.
The result isn't the same separation of actions as in offensive / defensive.

Delaying actions which involve ambushes would fall into the defensive and opportunity-creating categories. Sure, the ambushers wait for the hostiles, but the act of setting up an ambush is creating the opportunity of engaging hostiles in a killing zone. On the other side, some attacks don't fit nicely into the opportunity-creating category, and especially so if the opportunity already existed prior to the attack (reducing the attack to the equivalent of stabbing an temporarily exposed belly with the gladius).

Here's another way of dividing actions; attrition and 'maneuver'. Looked at from the 'opportunities' lens, attritionists don't place much emphasis on exploiting opportunities (event hough they likely produce them), resembling the phalanx exception above. 'Maneuvrists' on the other hand may fall more into the "opportunity-creating" category. There are exceptions, though; the "maneuver school"-associated "recon pull" approach (earlier French version; "manoeuvre à posteriori") is as little opportunity-creating as it gets with scouting: Recon pull is meant to find opportunities, but at the same time not necessarily meant to provoke or produce one. It's the equivalent of the legionary raising his head above the shield in order to see the gap in his opponent's defence. That's quite a different analogy than splitting some shield to hit the man behind it with a follow-up blow.

The opportunities lens may also be helpful to address the troubles around the concept of (gaining/having) "initiative" (related blog post). I suppose most of the time when someone speaks or writes about gaining the initiative, he's probably thinking of creating opportunities.
It is no perfect fit at all, but it may be more instructive and promising to order a subordinate to 'create and exploit opportunities' than to tell him to 'gain the initiative'. The latter appears to be excessively correlated with purposeless activism.
There may be some potential for insights in pushing one's awareness for the opportunity thing. The creation of opportunities comes either at a cost (risk, for example) or it's a no-brainer. The trade-off done by a leader when (s?)he decides to create (provoke, force) opportunities should probably not be done unconsciously, but consciously. Unlike "defensive" and "offensive", the "opportunity" lens offers a way of sorting options in a way that actually provides some usefulness in itself. Defensive and offensive is largely about terrain in a land warfare context, and fighting for terrain has built up a bad reputation since 1915. The opportunity lens is more directly, and at the same time more generally, about overcoming hostiles' resistance in an efficient manner.

The real challenge is of course to exploit opportunities when they arise, and it doesn't matter whether you were creating or awaiting it once there is a worthwhile opportunity.
Some military bureaucracies pride themselves on their abilities, including (though in other words) their ability to create opportunities. Yet at the same time, the very same organisations usually cannot pride themselves on their rate of actually exploiting opportunities.
Again, pushing the opportunity thing more and thus making people more aware of its relevance may be helpful.



"Schwerpunkt" for Dummies

I have repeatedly noticed that some (too many) people have difficulties understanding or even applying the concept of a Schwerpunkt.
Me personally, I don't get it at all. 

What's so difficult about it? I don't get it.

him again
Clausewitz applied this (his) concept a couple times in his writings, with some deviations. I'll do a summary of the general idea and its later shapes:

Superior* armies tend to prevail over inferior ones.
Thus you better make sure to have the superior army before accepting, offering or forcing battle.
The enemy isn't dumb and attempts the same, so you need a resolute concentration of force to best him in this.

We live in a world of scarcity; neither you nor your opponent have infinite forces at disposal.
This means in order to amass a superior army, you need to strictly limit your strength elsewhere.**
This is contrary to man's risk aversion, and thus it's the real challenge in the whole concept.***

The original Clausewitzian Schwerpunkt is unrelated to Newtonian physics. Clausewitz got Newtonian physics clearly wrong and borrowed a word whose mechanical meaning he did not understand. Simply ignore the physics in regard to the military Schwerpunkt.

Clausewitz' Schwerpunkt was about the strategic level and the decisive battle; theatre command / campaign or war strategy as a whole. He also used it in the context of the main battle. It was a design for a Napoleon-ish leader.

Later German military use of the concept expanded the basic idea to all levels, down to people calling the machinegun the Schwerpunktwaffe (Schwerpunkt weapon) of the German WW2 infantry squad leader.

So basically if you want to do something, do it right - and be prepared to accept that some other things won't turn out so well since you need to neglect them.

Post-Second World War (at the latest), Schwerpunkt entered civilian German in a meaning akin to the military one. Nowadays you can say it instead of Fokus and some other words.

The Americans kind of didn't like Clausewitz' Schwerpunkt. Maybe they didn't care much about resource constraints, maybe the horrible translations (inaccurate, but much more readable than the original) are to blame.

They basically went all in on the idea that if you defeat the Schwerpunkt of the enemy, you ought to have won (which Clausewitz kind of wrote). This was warped into the American idea of a military 'center of gravity': It describes a critical vulnerability of the enemy. It is a kind of supposedly existing trigger which allows you to defeat the enemy with little effort. Divisional headquarters, heads of state, national electrical grid hubs and the like become a 'center of gravity' in this view.
Clausewitz rolls over in his grave, for the enemy's Schwerpunkt was in his concept the most difficult to defeat thing there is.

I hope at least the few hundred readers of this blog won't have any problems with Schwerpunkt in its military meaning in the future. My advice is to write "center of gravity"(not British English: "centre ...") if you mean the American idea of a critical vulnerability / I-win-button and "Schwerpunkt" if you mean the German interpretation.
Don't bother with the needlessly restrictive Clausewitzian version (for high command only) unless there's an academic debate specifically about Clausewitz' post-mortem book "Vom Kriege" ("On war").


2010-01 Schwerpunkt and "center of gravity"
2010-08 Schwerpunkt and "Klotzen, nicht kleckern!" - the balance problem

"Vom Kriege", online for free
"On war", online for free (Graham translation)

*: Taking into account both quality and quantity.
**: "He who defends everything defends nothing." Frederick II the Great; pre-Clausewitz.
***: German language knows the phrase "scharf zusammenfassen", expressing that forces will not only be accumulated for the Schwerpunkt action the normal way, but by overcoming resistances and preferences.
Compare the U.S.Army terminology of "economy of force".