[Blog] In the making

About visitor statistics:
I give up. All three stats services disagree all the time, have fragmentary info and some of the stats are outright impossible. I suppose hundreds actual visitors visit this blog daily plus hundreds of robots and random visitors (from search engines). I'll never know much more accurate figures.

About upcoming posts:
I have a series on the theoretical foundation of military drones in the making. I'm dissatisfied with the prevailing hardware-centric writings on drones and want to look at the military theory substance. My progress is unsatisfactory so far (though better than run-of-the-mill articles on the subject IMO). Feel free to give me hints about existing conceptual/theoretical works on drones.
Also in the making:
"Dolchstoßlegende, assault infantry and modern personnel affairs"
(long, but still misleading title)
"Current Bundeswehr policy"
(about personnel affairs mostly)
"The espionage and data collection problem"
(this will be split up)
"Our addictions"
(against luxuries-dependence in Western military forces)
"Basic training catch up considerations"
(needs total rewrite)
"Future of Warfare in low GDP countries"
(has been a draft for months)
"Operational Planning Processes and Tactical Decisionmaking"
(has been a draft for months)
"Appropriate military strength requirements"
(has been a draft for months)
"Let's revert the outsourcing"
(has been a draft for months)
"Public debt after a war with conscription"
(has been a draft for years)
"The great irony of imperialism"
(has been a draft for years)
The rest of the 49 draft-status blog texts are unlikely to ever make it to publication.


"Training Observations"

Quick recommendation: Look at the article "Training observations" on Volume 2 Issue 1 of the Journal of Military Operations.

It's about observations after a two-week battle group* exercise (apparently Brits). It gives a nice glimpse of how difficult it is to shake off "Afghan-ism"s.

(I also like the author's humour.)

* Battle group in UK = typically a reinforced, possibly mixed, battalion as far as I know.


The location of the commander

From field manual FM 3-90.2 "The tank and Mechanized Infantry Task Group", June 2003 (U.S.Army)

3-3. Location of the commander
In the past, commanders have been torn between the conflicting requirement to visualize the battlefield and the requirement for his presence in the main command post to participate in the military decision-making process. This dilemma slowed the planning and execution of operations while frustrating the commander’s efforts to “get out of the command post.”
     a. All commanders within the task force have the ability to visualize their battlespace in all dimensions and to share a common operational picture (COP). Perhaps the largest and most immediate impact of digitization is its effect on the operations process (plan, prepare for, execute, and assess operations). Digitization streamlines planning and preparation by allowing the near-simultaneous transfer of information to all leaders. This transfer of information facilitates parallel planning and preparation. Using digitized equipment should compress the planning cycle for commanders and allow planning at all levels to begin sooner. Task force commanders also have the ability to locate and track targets precisely and conduct simultaneous operations employing lethal and nonlethal means while operating with joint and multinational forces. In addition, task force commanders retain the ability to recognize and protect their own and other friendly forces. The commander cannot, however, fully visualize the battlefield while directing and synchronizing the efforts of his task force from a computer screen at the main command post. He must move from the main CP to assess the situation face-to-face with subordinate commanders and soldiers. The C2 system within the task force permits a commander to position himself where he can best command without depriving himself of the ability to respond to opportunities and changing circumstances.
     b. The commander can be virtually anywhere on the battlefield to best affect ongoing operations without disrupting the planning and preparation for future operations. Near-real-time information updates, continuous assessment, and command decisions can be briefed, approved, and disseminated from task force to company team level via the available INFOSYS with the C2 system.
Astonishingly, this quote is from "Section I: The art of command".
I suppose I don't need to quote older German or American sources which highlight the morale influence of the commander on the troops through his presence. Nor do I need sources to highlight how being where the main action is can be crucial for quick decision-making and quick communication of orders to subordinates, right? Nor do I need to elaborate on radio ECM or radio silence, for sure. The OEF and ISAF troops in Afghanistan had radio communication troubles for years even without facing any electronic warfare threat.

I didn't quote this I-want-to-believe-in-technology text to bash a particular institution or country. Instead, it's a very very nice document to show how innovations are often exaggerated, and even supported by deliberate exaggeration in order to push them forward, to reap their benefits.
This quote may actually be useful if combined with a more classic education of the officer. I'm not sure that all of them get the same, but there are only so many mechanized battle group commanders, so I suppose it's possible to reliably convey the critical omissions in a less formal way if necessary.
Such biased military education tools may be much more troublesome when directed at less experienced personnel than majors. This is - especially in regard to technological exaggerations - worthy of major concern because technological sophistication has crept from supreme HQ level (general staff having telegraph connection to all armies by 1864) to squad/section level (electronic warfare tools, radios, GPS et cetera carried even by small patrols). It's important that laymen politicians and bureaucrats don't fall for the fashion du jour either. The barrage of pro-fashion propaganda in military journals (including the advertisements!), in field manuals, in presentations, on official websites, in parliamentary hearings and in private discussions can easily warp the idea of what's important when it comes to deter or prefer for war.


P.S.: This is how I would have written this sub-chapter about the location of the commander in battle (my first and only draft):
The well-established insights on the great morale value of a commander's presence among his troops during times of great challenges remain valid in face of digitization. A commander's first-hand experience of the terrain and the current combat situation remains valuable under most circumstances.
An old commander's conflict is between choosing his presence at the HQ for great influence on the staff's performance and choosing his presence with the troops in contact for great influence on their performance. This conflict can be reduced through digitization if reliable radio communication can and shall be maintained.
The commander can through digitized radio stay in sufficient contact with his staff while away from the HQ and he can exert some morale influence and gain impressions from the battlefield remotely as well. Couriers such as motorcycle couriers can transport not only verbal or on-paper information, but also large amounts of easily transported encrypted digitized information between the commander and his staff, allowing him to benefit of digitization without radio emissions, albeit with lags of several minutes on average. The same applies to the commander's communication with other distant subordinates, such as platoon leaders on a flank security mission, for example.


"Obama's Choice"

by Acemoglu / Robinson

The first possibility is that after moving to the White House, Obama became aware of information he did not have as a senator, and this information convinced him that it was futile to worry about civil liberties, and led him to conclude that the intelligence community should receive carte blanche.

The second is that Obama’s scruples were about somebody else having the power to violate others’ civil liberties. Once he came to control that power himself as president, albeit indirectly, he became much more willing to tolerate it even if this meant jeopardizing civil liberties. [...]

The third is that Obama did not abandon his concerns and sensibilities wholesale, but is a victim of a typical case of “career concerns”. [...]

Though we don’t know for sure, the first possibility seems a little far-fetched. The most likely explanation is therefore a combination of the second and third possibilities.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another powerful reason why we should have plebiscites. It's not enough to have the possibility to vote someone in office who says he thinks what you think. He can change his opinion (or be a skilled deceiver).
A plebiscite can create exactly the law the majority of the votes was for. No intermediary, no detour. Plebiscites should be available for important issues.

The smallish routine legislation and executive branch work are for politicians who can allocate much more of their time on the issues than the average voter. But the big issues should be decided by plebiscite - at least it should be an option if the voters are dissatisfied with how the politicians decided.
Those who distrust the voters and think they would make bad choices at plebiscites shall either explain how voters are supposedly able to decide on entire parties and election platforms if they're unable to decide on a single clear issue. And in case they cannot explain this, they shall be considered secret authoritarians who distrust democracy generally.


I think the second possibility mentioned above is very, very visible in regard to German top politicians and their stance towards civil liberties, spying, internet censorship and similar topics:
Sure, there were evil people in power sometime and here are evil people in power somewhere else, but now we are in power and we would really not misuse this power.
The example of the U.S. shows us that they probably wouldn't wake up even after it becomes public that has already happened on their watch.


DOJ Says Company That Vetted Snowden Faked 665,000 Background Checks


It's one of the risks of outsourcing. Bureaucracies had motives which need to be brought under control, but the private sector's profit motive is powerful and requires a lot of control as well. Except that you need to accept it by design, while some bureaucratic instincts can justly be considered illegitimate.

[Fun] The full circle of tank evolution




The Ukrainian question

The Ukraine is quite obviously a country between two blocs - the EU and the Moscow-led CIS (although it's a kind of member of the latter).
These two blocs (or rather EU / Russian government) have each their own interest in gaining more influence on the Ukraine, more alignment by the Ukraine and more close cooperation. It's almost an old-fashioned great power struggle for some not-yet-distributed piece of the world.

The methods chosen to exert influence were different, and I have no doubt that the Russian government was more engaged and resolute in its efforts. Both blocs vied primarily for the more friendly ethnic group of the Ukraine's multi-ethnic population; ethnic Ukrainians are expected by the EU to be pro-EU and ethnic Russians are expected by Moscow to be pro-Moscow. The ethnic Ukrainians were unable to maintain a pro-EU policy in part due to domestic politics, though.

The strategical core element of both blocs was apparently the hope that a friendly Ukrainian government supported by the majority of the friendly ethnic group would be in power, limit alignment with the other bloc and move towards one's bloc.

Neither bloc seems to have contemplated a strategy which relaxes primarily the Ukraine's inner tensions or pushes for primarily prosperity in the Ukraine in the medium term.
The EU's association negotiations were apparently clumsy: The bureaucratic automatons and mostly distracted politicians did not develop a concise association treaty that the Ukraine couldn't resist, with goodies and no contentious demands. Instead, the negotiations produced a long treaty draft as if the Ukraine was some country in the midst of Europe whose intent to join the EU was out of question.

The inner tensions in the Ukraine are neither going to be solved by either an alignment with the EU nor by an alignment with Moscow. It's also unlikely that any Ukrainian government could maintain a close alignment with Russia unless the Ukrainians get rewarded for it with great prosperity (economic growth) - an outcome that's unlikely with either alignment as long as the inner tensions persists and focus cannot be directed at economic policy. A close alignment with the EU would rather increase the inner tensions.

An alternative exists; the Ukraine as a neutral buffer country between both blocs. This is runs counter to the instincts of both the Russian government (which attempts to keep the bloc's borders far away from Moscow and still remembers the old times too well) and of the EU (which is still convinced of its mission to unite Europe, which means to grow - and its bureaucracy loves growth as any bureaucracy does by design). So neither bloc seems to consider this as more than an interim reality.

A second alternative is to split the country, but a look at ethnic maps shows quickly that this isn't going to be easy or end up being satisfactory.

Russian as mother tongue according to 2001 census, (c)Tovel

A split would lead to Russia taking peripheral regions (mostly the Crimea) and still having the forward-most EU-aligned country (or EU member) only a few driving hours away from Moscow. Plenty self-identified Russians would then stay in a  Ukrainians-dominated Ukraine, and form a likely persistent political minority which would feel oppressed and provoke further outside interferences from Moscow.

Another alternative would be to first relax the inner tensions, then see what happens alignment-wise.
Both Bruxelles and Moscow are most poor advisers for this, and obviously not very interested in this scenario.
The Swiss on the other hand might be ideal. For starters, they know how to run a multi-ethnic, multi-language country without too much turmoil.
Their plebiscites turned their actual cabinet and head of government institutions into much less important and much less contested offices than we're used from other countries. No ethnic minority would need to feel oppressed in such a state because they would not be ruled by some highly visible top politicians anyway. The contentious political debates would tend to be centred on the plebiscites instead.
It's one thing to not be on the winning side of an election or plebiscite, and it's another to see the results in shape of the other part's politicians in power on a daily basis.
I don't think a federalist approach would help here, as the Russians are too much in the minority.

A fourth scenario would be to simply turn the attention and energy towards materialistic things; an obsession with wealth might help distract from ethnic collisions. This is unlikely to happen unless a government succeeds in pushing through a great economic program, gets very favourable trade deals with both blocs and weakens the currency.

A fifth scenario would be most cynical, but was proven again and again; when two parties are in conflict, the easiest way to cool this conflict down is usually to redirect their anger on a third group. A mass immigration of Muslims or some terror by idiots not aligned with either group could 'serve' this purpose.

Obviously, I wished the EU had been deliberately smart and self-disciplined in this entire question. But it would have been even better if the Ukrainians had found a way to relax their inner tensions in the past two decades. They know what's at stake.


edit: Disclaimer about my earlier position 2008-04 Alliances and guarantees of independence
 (I was against inviting them into NATO, especially while Dubya was still in office and especially as a cabinet-level decision. I still think this should be a plebiscite-level decision.)


The GCV program is dead

The U.S.Army has failed to bring an armoured combat vehicle from scratch to service once again:

US Army Chief Confirms: Ground Combat Vehicle Is Dead (For Now)
Probably what they hoped for - but not what the program yielded
  About the GCV: 2007-11 Ridiculous

"We know exactly what we want. We want a fast, highly mobile, fully armored, lightweight vehicle. It must be able to swim, cross any terrain, and climb 30 degree hills. It must be air-transportable. It must have a simple but powerful engine, requiring little or no maintenance. The operating range should be several hundred miles. We would also like it to be invisible."
General Bruce C. Clarke, 1960 (link)
The challenge is to be an adult and settle for what you can actually get in quantity.

They didn't succeed in this ever since they brought the Bradley/Abrams duo into service, and both those programs were riddled with poor decisions and performance during their development (and kept having major conceptual problems ever since*).
Only the U.S.Marine Corps bureaucracy is worse at procurement (their recently-cancelled EFV had a development history which began in 1973 and didn't produce a single in-service vehicle!)

This obvious bureaucratic inability to produce a desired and in the long term necessary output means that Europeans need to pick up the issue and succeed instead. And this surely doesn't mean the UK's MoD, which excels at gold-plating and turning even off-the shelf solutions into what's more expensive than all-new designs should be. A preliminary study for the UK MoD appears to be the equivalent of what used to be a completed Swedish development project.

The German industry focused recently on the Puma IFV, which may have delivered a fine base vehicle (but I'm not sure its armament or dismount strength are worthy of such an effort), but this too has been a rather slow and expensive affair. Italian vehicles appear to be of a relatively modest standard, French vehicle tend to be tailored to French ideas, Greek output is typically a modification of a foreign design and the Swedish AFV industry has been absorbed and infected by the UK's BAe.
So it's probably down to the Swiss (preferring wheeled vehicles), the Finnish (wheeled vehicles only) and maybe the Germans (one major project per decade).

The good news is that the Russians don't excel at this either.

Still, in the long term we should fix this procurement and industrial issue, which looks a lot like a institutional culture, red tape, staff technical competence, rulebook and politics issue to me.


The de facto cancellation may be considered news and this blog isn't really about news, but this list of related blog posts shows that this is really not news. It was predictable. The story is here is a persisting, hemisphere-spanning problem.


*: The Bradley issues are well-known. The M-1 issues are mostly about the wrong engine (turbine instead of diesel), the initially wrong gun (105 mm rifled instead of 120 mm smoothbore) and the political intervention in favour of the design which the army had considered inferior (Chrysler's). Chrysler was in trouble and the government wanted to bail it out through the Pentagon budget. A quick recap is here.


[Fun][Deutsch] Wie Politiker mit Skandalen umgehen


(How politicians deal with scandals: From left to right;
Demand comprehensive investigation
Demand serious consequences
Say that there are more important matters
 ADAC Affäre; scandal about faked poll results
concerning which was the Germans' favourite car in 2013)

An anti-submarine strategy which doesn't care about their stealth

(Warning; long text, no eye candy.)
I was involved in a discussion at Think Defence about maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and after becoming annoyed I issued a kind of challenge: I asked

Can you imagine an anti-SSK doctrine which renders the submarine’s stealth -its greatest strength- largely irrelevant?
It was a kind of trick question and I got the fully anticipated 
No, of course not.
kind of answer.

Well, of course it's possible to devise an anti-SSK doctrine and strategy which renders the enemy submarines' stealth irrelevant. You would never get this idea as long as you're locked into a tunnel vision on big ticket hardware and direct attack, of course.
The idea that in order to defeat a submarine you need to hit (destroy) it is simplistic and shouldn't be more than the very first, intuitive and primitive idea. You should keep thinking afterwards, including a search of military history, if you want to come to an idea of anti-submarine warfare that's worth being uttered.

Let's go full abstract for a while. The submarine, how does it turn into a problem?

First there's a base. The submarine are here and prepare for a patrol.
Then there's the platform (the submarine) on patrol.
Next, there are munitions moving towards

It's a mistake to apply a tunnel vision on the platform alone.

Here's a list of imaginable counters to a submarine threat (my work of about ten minutes, not comprehensive):

suppression activities (radar, ESM, overflight of clear shallow waters)
countermeaasures to missiles and torpedoes
air strike on bases (/replenishment)
air strike on torpedo and missile depots
air strike on ELF installations
air strike on repair shipyard if a sub is present
offensive minelaying near bases
warship signature reduction (technically and by choice of speed)
addition of civilian ships to otherwise military convoys for covering noise and as decoys (especially close to and in the wake of CVs)
use of minebreakers with signature emulation capability to simulate high value targets in order to attract and seduce SSKs
towed decoy sets for civilian ships
provoke loud submarine reactions in passive sonar-covered areas by deceiving the subs with torpedo noises (especially if a contact is probably false; cheaper than dropping a torpedo)
addition of low value civilian ships to convoys of high value civilian ships as decoys
use of civilian ships as baits to expose a SSK when it attacks
active LF sonar by warships, preferably multistatic + helo for contact confirmation/accuracy and torpedo delivery
choice of routes for convoys preferably where LF sonar works fine
convoys avoid suspected and confirmed contacts if possible
straits and short standard routes preferably covered by sea bottom sensors
issue of return and radio silence order by ELF once and if hostile ELF emitters were destroyed and codes known through intelligence

Note how only a single line was about the most obvious, intuitive and superficial action; an attack on the sub at sea.

This list shows that you can indeed do a lot about the bases - and thus maybe keep a couple hostile submarines from ever going on a wartime patrol. More reliably, taking out bases and replenishment ships may limit the submarines to a single patrol. In fact, most countries have so very small inventories of munitions that they could probably not reload all of their submarines at least once anyway. This is in part a consequence of human fallibilities and the primacy of deterrence over warfighting and in part it's an after-effect of the Cold War when almost nobody expected a second patrol for any NATO or Warsaw Pact submarine in case of World War 3. Times have changed, and being able to deny a 2nd or 3rd patrol may easily equate cutting the submarine threat by 60 or 70%. So call in the bombers. Offensive minelaying serves the same purpose; less patrols.

Some other mentioned actions are meant to make contacts less likely, and especially so under unfavourable conditions. LF active sonar has fine ranges, but hardly enough range to prevent attacks by submarines altogether. Submarine commanders who are aware of LF sonar qualities against their boat will tend to limit the risk - this means a preference for combat under favourable circumstances or the launch of ammunitions from long-enough ranges. Peacetime exercises task submarines to attack targets and the submarines engage accordingly, and especially SSNs are often having a hard time being forced into risky attack by such orders. In wartime, tactics may be different and someone under the great impression of peacetime exercises and experiments may easily misunderstand the interaction.

Another set of measures was meant to reduce the effectiveness of the munitions by addressing their lethality after launch - irrespective of the launch position. Torpedoes and submarine-launched missiles are guided munitions. Every critical component has a probability to fail, and items with dependence on many critical components have an accumulated and often astonishingly high chance to fail. Peacetime testing often fails to discover even the most horrendous problems. Torpedoes and missiles tend to have impressive technical failure rates; ranging from less than 5% to about 70% historically. Yet even newly-made items of a perfectly mature munition design with decades of service and testing will in practice fail you a lot:
You can test your munitions against friendly ships and friendly countermeasures (technical and tactical), but only wartime delivers the true test; against hostile ships and hostile countermeasures. We didn't have much of this for anti-ship missiles and none for post-WW2 torpedoes. It's akin to F-22 Raptor fighters winning against Western fighters in simulated fights; who cares? It's not the Western air forces which have prepared to counter the F-22 for a quarter century by now.
I personally think a hit probability of 20% for every torpedo which leaves port is a realistic guess. The ph for a torpedo hit on a high value target (CV, LPD, DDG, FFG, supertanker et cetera) may easily be 5% or less if civilian low-value ships are being abused as decoys (again, ph per torpedo which left port with the boat).
I suppose you know the periscope photo trophies of 'sunk' carriers? Well, in wartime against a competent navy such photos should not be possible. There could be  long container ship to the left and another one to the right (no, I won't look up the English translation for the correct nautical terms) and two small ones in the wake of the carrier. A torpedo salvo's odds of taking the carrier out of action would be very disappointing. The commander might actually choose to sink two DDGs instead - except that these probably have plenty decoy boats in action as themselves.

So this was already about the fourth item, the targets. Even munitions which hit may actually yield disappointments as a consequence of applied tactics.

What didn't I mention much so far? Oh yes, killing the sub. Well, to build a navy to destroy subs at sea may actually be a stupid idea. One reason is that targets are plenty, thus assets to protect them would need to be plenty - and high quality (high cost), or else they might be ineffective. Another reason is that the oceans are huge, so you would need terribly many assets - again high quality and high cost - to hunt submarine there.
How exactly could this be a reasonable approach if maybe the threat is only half a dozen submarines? Or maybe it's a dozen, or two dozen - but you would need many dozen ships and many dozen rotary and fixed wing aircraft if you insisted that destroying submarines is the centrepiece or even only important in your strategy.
And let's not forget the hostile submariners may get lucky and have one or two advances on their side, devaluing your huge sub killer force. There's no guarantee that you stay ahead of them if you focus on the direct approach, after all.

So is it possible to devise an anti-SSK doctrine which renders their stealth largely irrelevant? Yes, of course, it is. In theory you don't need to detect them in order to defeat them, ever. They're no ramming boats. Their lethality depends on their munitions (usually only one to three different types), the quantity of munitions is limited and later patrols are only possible if certain conditions are met. You can address the SSK threat without hunting SSKs explicitly. You certainly don't need MPAs against them. MPAs are a choice, and I suppose the odds of MPAs being or staying ahead the curve in  relation to hostile great power subs are unsatisfactory.

I suppose a very typical -if not unavoidable- counter to my case is that the losses incurred this way - 20% hits, for example - would be unacceptable.*
Let's think about this rationally. A competent hostile navy will sink ships anyway, even if you ruin your country fiscally building an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) fleet and hordes of MPAs. Compare the costs of a comprehensive kill-oriented (and kill-dependent) ASW approach both in procurement and in operations costs to an ASW approach in which the focus is rather on addressing replenishment and munitions, and in which a couple more 'targets' are built in order to have enough of them left after the subs on their first patrol struck a few times.

An actual calculation of which approach is better would depend on a great many unknown variables, though a very small threat submarine fleet should clearly favour my approach, while a very vulnerable (noisy) submarine fleet would clearly favour the conventional 'kill the subs at sea' approach. Quelle surprise; Soviet subs were noisy when the now dominant approach to ASW was coined!

Those who were thoroughly indoctrinated by navies in their orthodox doctrine and those who love hardware emotionally or for business reasons will almost inevitably think now that I'm batshit crazy. I know that, but I'm independent, don't get paid for writing on military affairs, wasn't solidly indoctrinated by a navy and I maintained the ability to think about stuff on an abstract level, with little emotional attachment to the conventional wisdom and doctrine. How could anyone tell this apart from batshit crazy nowadays?


*: I didn't bother writing this piece in an order and in a wording to convince readers fully. A certain cognitive dissonance between what's believed so far and the points herein is intentional. Those who have already formed an opinion will either grow old and still believe as elderly people in 50 years old ideas or they need to overcome cognitive dissonance at some point and embrace different thoughts. Nobody needs to be convinced by this blog text, but at least some readers should keep in mind that the way to grow is to stretch one's old skin.

Leadership, innovation and glass-ceramics. (no typo)

I'll try to use some material science to illustrate a personnel and leadership challenge. We'll see it it works:

You can melt some sands into glass, and glass is amorphous, thus quite fully transparent. Maybe you don't want to create glass, though; maybe you want a glass ceramic. First; why becomes glass amorphous?
The reason is simple, the only relevant alternative is to create a crystal (glass-ceramic), but crystals are being created in two steps; first you need to create a few tiny crystallized spots (German Keime ~ seeds). This requires to have the material at a certain temperature range at which this happens the most.
The second step is to change the temperature such that it's now optimal for crystal growth. This is a different, higher temperature range.
Normal cooling of molten glass first passes the optimum temperature for crystalline growth, then the optimum temperature for creation of crystallized spots. That's the wrong sequence, so glass stays amorphous instead of becoming crystalline.
You need to re-heat the material after forming the first few crystallized spots and heat it up to the crystal growth temperature in order to grow the crystals and create glass-ceramic.

- - (no transition whatsoever here) - -
It's a common misconception that innovation can be controlled and forced in width and depth. That's the same as with crystal growth; it doesn't really matter how much energy you put into it unless you have champions for innovation (the seed crystals).
Their importance can hardly be understated. I know the style of reports about deficiencies; plenty people know about deficiencies, plenty report them, plenty describe them - but rarely ever does anyone the critical step and becomes obsessed about the problem as an institutional insider. This obsession coupled with some charisma, supporters (and the good luck of being mostly correct) is what creates successful innovations.

Not yet another Guderian pic
Organizations don't become incapable of innovation only because they grow too big: They become largely incapable of innovation and instead waste much money in poor R&D because they focus on growing innovation instead of paying attention to the chance event that someone becomes obsessed about something and thus a potential champion for innovation.
The inter-war years' armies were able to purchase armoured vehicles on tracks and mount some gun on top. They were also able to buy enough trucks and cars to equip move entire divisions on motor vehicles. But the development of functional, well thought-out mechanized forces depended on having an insider champion for this innovation (such as Guderian).
I suppose both civilian and military examples of such champions for innovation are well-known, so this example shall suffice.

To make good use of such people isn't easy; it may require a lot of modesty and self-discipline on part of their superiors. People with enough self-confidence to become a zealot are rarely easy to handle and often times they'll run into trouble with others (including promotion boards) and need to be saved by superiors out.
You can - just in case you expect to make a career -  try to get it right yourself: Keep the eyes open for people who have the ambition to improve something, and maybe you're even the one who tips them over so they become zealots against something that's unsatisfactory, for something better.

related: 2013-12 Champions for change


Bi-Ho / Flying Tiger upgrade

There's yet another self-propelled anti-air gun upgrade which adds a couple very short range air defence missile launchers. We've seen this on the American LAV-AD (combined from scratch), a Gepard upgrade package (addition of Stingers), Tunguska (combined from scratch), some ZSU-23-4 upgrade packages, Chinese Type 95 before. 

old K-30 Bi-Ho shape
Quick reminders:

I suppose it's now safe to say that the majority of modern army SP VShorAD assets are a tracked vehicle with light armour, a turret, a radar, a FLIR, a laser rangefinder, at least two 25-35 mm barrels and at least two missiles.

The division of labour is between the cannons for shorter range air defence and defence against ground threats and the missiles for greater range. The typical missile is an ordinary ManPADS with passive infrared/UV seeker and thus susceptible to the countermeasures which were developed against this kind of missiles since the 80's.

Curiously, the Bundeswehr insists on missile-only solutions such as Ozelot (Gepard is retired). I hope they will revise this, for autocannons aren't obsolete; they provide a chance to kill a flying object at much lower costs. This is essential against cheap drones.
I would prefer a mix of versatile 76 mm rapid fire guns with high maximum elevation, laser beam rider missiles (counter-platform) and radio controlled missiles (cheap counter-PGM) instead, but there is no budget for this.



Truck mounted artillery

1909: Krupp-Daimler Plattformwagen, 75 mm,
SPAAG with light armour and AWD
1910: Krupp-Daimler Plattformwagen
1911: Krupp-Daimler Plattformwagen, 75 mm SPAAG, light armour
75 mm Krupp SPAAG (before WWI)
French 75 mm SPAAG, WWI
Russian truck SPG, 1915
autocannone da 75/27 SPAAG, WWI
another WWI SPAAG
Krupp-Daimler Geschützkraftwagen 7,5 cm Kw 19 (or Sd.Kfz 1),
late WWI and Reichswehr era

What did these have in common?
Well, all these photographs were done without colour, they all show trucks with quick fire guns and they're all older than 80 years. Some of them do in fact show vehicles which existed before there was any "tank" built.
Most show self-propelled anti-air (mostly "balloon") guns, but at least a few of them were more meant and employed for normal artillery fires. In fact, the last one was considered as an important anti-tank asset.
Interestingly, some of the very earliest examples were actually armoured trucks (pre-WWI German armoured trucks were either armed with an anti-balloon gun, a machinegun or a self-loading rifle, the latter being meant as vehicles for generals).

Truck-mounted artillery is no novelty. There was plenty such artillery during WWI, again plenty during WWII (and also on half-tracks) and there were also Cold War-era vehicles of this kind (such as DANA, G6).
The air deployability craze after the U.S.Army's "relevance" panic post-Kosovo Air War led to a huge reignition of interest in truck-mounted artillery. The 1990's design CAESAR became the poster child, closely followed by a Swedish competitor. Suddenly, truck-mounted artillery projects were immensely fashionable and appeared all over the world. The main marketing hype was about the lower weight compared to the Cold War's typically tracked self-propelled guns (SPGs) and thus deployability by C-130 and similar aircraft.

This was a fashion driven by ignorance and immaturity - or at least do I think so. Self-propelled artillery based on trucks is older than tanks - how could it suddenly be such a much better idea than only a few years earlier when almost nobody paid attention?

Let's look at truck-mounted artillery in general (but with focus on the SPG role).

Firing to the rear is usually no issue unless the traverse is restricted.
Firing forward may cause trouble at low elevation because of muzzle blast (unlikely to still be an issue if you have gun overhang).
Firing sidewards is a big problem, and the recent 155 mm SPGs on trucks typically don't do it. The Italians used 65 mm mountain guns with soft recoil (the first such gun) on 4x4 trucks during WW2 and the recent Hawkeye project uses the same concept - both times firing sideways is no issue.


(edit: dead embedded video replaced in 2021)

There's another solution to the problem of firing sideways, though: Two or four stabilizers lowered to the ground.

All-round traverse can thus be had with moderately powerful guns on a truck, while powerful guns such as modern 155 mm howitzers tend to have a limited traverse similar to most towed guns.

These trucks typically carry some ammunition, but usually not as much as a towed artillery battery would be allocated per gun. So you either employ a second truck for ammunition and maybe additional personnel, or you end up being very mobile, but incapable of sustaining fires for long. This was certainly discouraging at a time when vehicle costs were a major concern and horse-drawn artillery a serious alternative (till well into WW2).

Concerning mobility; even some of the very first examples employed a 4x4 drive, and one of the Italian SPGs of WW2 wasn't only 4x4, but one of the very few dedicated vehicles ever specifically built for sand deserts. So some degree of off-road mobility can be achieved with truck-mounted artillery, and it's apparently usually satisfactory for the indirect fire role.

A major concern of the soft-skinned truck SPGs was certainly that the loss of the valuable motor vehicle was more likely if it was stuck with the gun than if it was able to withdraw away from the battery position. Then again, the ability to simply drive away once counterfire arrives was invaluable. It was the reason for the breakthrough of tracked SPGs in late WW2. So lightly armoured truck SPGs have this strength, but at the expense that the truck is additionally laden with about a ton of steel.

A truck is - even if lightly armoured - probably more lightweight than a tracked vehicle, but this is not necessarily so. Caesar weighs in at more than 17 tons with a 155 mm L/52 gun while the about 40 years older Mk F3 155 mm howitzer (shorter barrel) from France weighed about the same on a tracked chassis. A completely new lightweight 155 mm  SPG on tracks and with similar traverse restrictions as CAESAR may easily be feasible at much less than 20 tons. Then again, light truck-based SPGs with 105 mm howitzers are down to much less than 10 tons nowadays.

I think truck-mounted SPGs are a justifiable concept and choice, but they clearly didn't deserve the hype they enjoyed during the early and mid-2000's. Ironically, some of the truck-based SPG designs with the best-visible niches (compared to tracked SPGs) got very little attention.
An army such as the French one which moves a few battalions with lightly armoured trucks to some place in inner Africa for meddling in some civil war could make excellent use of such truck-mounted howitzers. There's also little reason to pursue concepts akin to Panzerhaubitze 2000 for European-style inter-state war any more. Truck-based SPGs may actually be more, not less, survivable despite less armour, less offroad mobility and usually less range: Long-range radars can easily discern tracked vehicles (and their traces on soft soil) from wheeled vehicles. There would be thousands of tracked vehicles (high value targets) in such a conflict, but hundreds of thousands of trucks. You better hide among the latter kind. The ideal European SPG of the future could actually be more like an AGM on a semi-trailer, moved by an easily replaceable commercial truck and undistinguishable from low value logistical vehicles most of the time.

On the other hand, maybe main battle tanks, medium tanks, light tanks, airborne AFVs and the like produce a couple future designs in which guns of 75-155 mm calibre have a dual direct and indirect fire role not only for guided, but also for dumb or merely trajectory-correcting munitions.
Quite the same could happen to the armoured wheeled vehicles, of course. Light mechanized groups (~armoured recce in French style) might have a lot of use for such versatility, and airborne forces might as well.



European and Russian military capability

I've had a draft text titled "The wet paper bag delusion" for months, in which I (again) hammered on the stupid notion that Europe couldn't defend itself, or rather bashed those who profess such bullocks in public.
Such a topic provokes some not very nice lines, and I held it on draft status ever since.

The problem with this bollocks is very, very fundamental; people don't think much before they talk (or write) and don't grasp that military power is relative. Now if Europe couldn't fight its way out of a figurative wet paper bag, then it should be noted that there isn't even such a thing as a trace of a wet paper bag anywhere close to Europe.

A Swedish effort to quantify the military power of Russia has been published recently (nobody really thinks that Arab armies are a threat to Europe, right?).

FOI, Hedenskog et al, 2013
(the English version used to be here, now one is here)

Some results (page 58):
The Russian army could have in action in the Western part of Russia
in the first week: 5 brigades + 1 airborne brigade
additionally after one month: 6 brigades + 1 airborne division
additionally after 6 months: 5 brigades + 2 airborne divisions

I suppose it's unnecessary to compare this to the military strength of European NATO or the EU.
The party which couldn't defend itself here is Russia/Belarus, period.
The "wet paper bag" talk only serves one purpose; we can easily identify some people who totally don't deserve our attention.
Pay attention; some of those uselessly blathering folks employ a very polished, "serious people" style (though no substance) to fool others into believing that they're great thinkers.

The actual military power of the allied European continental countries is so overpowering in relation to any conceivable threat that there's no need for bigger budgets, or for a feeling of insecurity. 

We should rather recognize this excellent national and collective security situation and push for some reforms and experiments which we probably won't do any more if we come under pressure. This is a time when we can afford a couple failed experiments. Let's build experimental formations, allocate resources to experimental free-play exercises - now we can still spare a few brigades' combat readiness.



Assorted enjoyable hardware stuff


The lack of the fore wheel's spin alone certainly influences the driving characteristics a lot - even without taking the entirely different aft into account.

A cheaper historical approach; I cannot tell how successful it was.

(Low mean maximum ground pressure doesn't help you much on very soft 'soil' if it (and displacement) only keeps you from sinking deep enough to get grip on some hard surface beneath.)

Bundeswehr cutlery. Too heavy, but otherwise a stroke of genius. Its can opener is brute, though.
The Bundeswehr field dishes follow the principle of Matrjoshkas.

Another Bundeswehr classic: The Esbit stove. The Esbit (invented 1936) piece is enough for boiling some water or making a meal, but the stove also works fine with a tea light for keeping beverages warm. Six Esbit pieces can be stored inside the folded stove. Great for camping.

Another stroke of genius: The incredibly versatile triangle Zeltbahn
There's a website dedicated to show how versatile and useful this simple piece of kit was (and it was sophisticated in its treatment and printing).
The Bundeswehr used a primitive, not nearly as versatile and monochrome rectangular piece for decades instead.

Are you interested in tanks and in the genesis of the famous "Chobham armour"? Well, here's a great historical document about its early shape, the "Burlington armour".

Tire balls not only address the problem of punctures, but apparently also allow for somewhat less air pressure in the tire and thus a lower ground pressure for more grip off-road. Motorcycles have long passed their zenith in Western forces, and didn't even make a real comeback when Afghans were demonstrating their benefits to us. Instead, Western forces bean to pay attention to quads/ATVs which don't require much extra driving training and can employ other approaches against the puncturing issue (related).

Revealed in November; the BMPT concept now as a retrofit turret without the irritating hull-mounted automatic grenade launchers. I get the appeal of a rapid fire gun / missile armed vehicle at MBT protection levels, but I don't don't understand why they chose this specific combination of weapons, even without the AGLs.



Bacevich's take on the NYT's obsession about the threat of a 'new' isolationism

It's a bit dated (Oct 2013), but I finally come around to recommend Bacevich's lengthy blog text in which he documented one piece of the American puzzle of interventionism:

By Andrew Bacevich

All too often you win the argument by setting the narrative. And the really good manipulators quell even the tiniest deviations from their course effectively with entrenched narratives and appeal to emotions.



The point of having a state and government

Many political differences can in my opinion be traced back to different ideas of what a state and government is good for.

My idea is that governance for a group (nation) has to serve the group as a whole. The exact meaning of this still depends on the philosophical stance concerning the weighing of interests of different people. I prefer to accept the ignorance about their preferences and to let them express their preferences through plebiscites and elections. This is basically the "rule of the majority + protection for the minority" thing, except that I suppose the majority or its representatives should still attempt to serve the whole group because majorities are changing. People from countries with locked-in majorities (Southern United States, Africa) are unlikely to have this same idea if they consider themselves as part of this majority.

Another idea is partisan; politicians and their followers strive for power in order to strip the defeated minority of what it wants and take or establish what they want instead. The majority gets the perks, the minority gets to suffer even when it's obviously unfair. This partisan approach does usually not pay much attention to neutral scientific conclusions, and does often not respect ethnic or religious minorities. I also think they're more prone to radicalism (politicians seek to mobilize their followers instead of winning over undecided voters) and less respectful to foreign powers. The latter may be an extension of the domestic 'us vs. them' attitude to the rest of the world. 
A country with a generation of hyperpartisan politics may easily lose its way because the strategists behind these cynical policies* leave the stage and their successors are naive true believers who were stupid enough to actually buy into their partisan propaganda themselves. This is one way how a country could transition into the next category:

There is in some countries the idea that the state or governance should serve an ideology. Most ideologies are simplifications of reality, meant to more easily convince and fire up the masses rather than striving for accuracy. Theocracies and feudal or monarchic rule with much focus on dynastic succession and accumulation of power belong into this category as well, but are rare nowadays. The problem with ideology-serving governance is plain and simple that ideology is but an illusion, and the governance all-too-often doesn't serve the people much, if at all.

Some governments which insist on the appearance that they're true to an ideology don't really serve the ideology, though. It's usually stupid anyway. Such states do instead serve only the powerful, and this may be one patriarchal absolutist ruler who doles out favours in exchange for the necessary support of this governance. Oppression and propaganda are often most extreme in such regimes because the population would otherwise be difficult if not impossible to rule. This kind of rule coupled with a relatively powerful country yielded the most troubles historically, and was usually contained by a concerted effort of multiple other powers (example Napoleon, Hitler). Small countries with such a rule tend to be of little concern for their neighbours, of course.
It's a mess with these different ideas of what a state is supposed to do: The "right" and "wrong" of a policy depends on this idea, and some seemingly "right" moves only become "wrong" because the idea of government is "wrong". Or so you think.
You may encounter elaborate reasoning and justifications for an action, and it may be comprehensive and make perfect sense - within its own framework of what a government is good for. You may even debate someone else on a topic and both you and the other person are right in the respective opinion and reasoning, but only within the respective framework. This makes for very boneheaded debate behaviour.

Preferences may differ to the extent that someone may actually prefer to serve an ideology or get great psychological relief from oppressing a despised minority. Preferences in themselves require no legitimacy; they simply exist, and are themselves the source of legitimacy of actions (or determine their illegitimacy). Preferences may even be the sole source of legitimacy there is, but more religious people may consider their deity or deities as an equal if not superior source of legitimacy.**

Anyway; whether a policy is "right" or "wrong" is often subjective and based on one's preferences. There are few outright nonsensical, incompetent policies which are wrong on every account. Such accidents happen, though.

The usual notion of democracy vs. dictatorship (or tyranny) is much too simplistic, but most Westerners know this. What's lacking in my opinion is awareness about how countries at times slide from one idea of governance to another. Both hyperpartisanship (an affinity towards policies of "us vs. them") and ideology (a usually codified extreme simplification of reality, giving the impression of sufficient knowledge where there's none***) are most troublesome.
The way to go is a strict pursuit of the common good. This doesn't mean that a policy must not leave anyone left behind as a loser; it rather means that not only constitutional minimum requirements, but also fairness in general should be observed by the rule of the majority.
A domestic political culture of this kind does in my opinion not tend to produce aggression against other countries any more, since the common good can rarely be served through the voluntary entry into an orgy of destruction such as modern warfare. And this political culture helps domestic freedom, of course.


*: related
**: This is in my opinion impossible to settle with reasoning until one or some of the thousands of deities known to mankind shows up in some decisive way (again). Right now I don't even know how exactly the various monotheistic religions determined which prophet was real and which was fake.
***: The intellectually lazy path, quite similar to conspiracy theorists: They make up bullocks or adopt it and then get the feeling of superior knowledge on the cheap. Then again, we all need to make up our mind without knowing everything about a subject; there are merely degrees of ignorance, everybody is at least partially ignorant on everything. Some of us are more easily satisfied with their level of ignorance than others, though.