On overly impressed people's errors

Shortly after the First World War a Swissman (whose name I forgot) was most impressed by what he had heard about the trench war. He concluded that machineguns were the weapon of the future. He campaigned for an all-machinegunner Swiss militia, which would supposedly be invincible then.

This is a rather normal human behaviour: Recent, impressive experiences have often a disproportionate influence on one's thinking. It's similar to how some people seriously believe that it's an utter necessity to "Bomb Iran, now!" - shortly after a barrage of alarmist reports and commentary. Again and again, for 20 years - and in days such as today, they barely remember Iran's existence.

The events in the Ukraine impressed a lot of people as well. Putin somehow invented a new way of war or such (never mind that he basically did what a British political satire TV show explained in detail three decades ago). Then they go on to assert that Putin would employ the very same approach in another conflict as well. 
And that's stupid.

His approach isn't to employ troops without badges in an invasion -> *black box magic* -> win!
He's rather successfully doing what many aggressive governments have done in history and will keep doing; he exploited his freedom of action, stayed below the violent response threshold of the other great powers. His actions in the Ukraine were tailored to this country's domestic conditions.

Conflicts in which he wants to achieve more than possible without exceeding said threshold are likely to take the shape of a strategic coup de main with conventional forces. Conflicts with a low threshold and little ambition on Putin's side may see much less brazen moves than on the Crimea or in the Eastern Ukraine.

Now excuse me, I go visit some places in the intertubes where people embarrass themselves in a funny way by pretending that Putin would repeat the exact same scheme from the Ukraine elsewhere.

related: 2012-07 Niche exaggerations



  1. “he exploited his freedom of action, stayed below the violent response threshold of the other great powers.”


    Of course, but the more important (and unanswered) question is what are Putin’s ultimate objectives?

    I note that Russia’s adventure in the Ukraine was for territorial gain – a serious thing.

    If Russia remains successful in “nibbling” around the edges, the end result may well an appetite for a larger bite. Historically, at some point a miscalculation of the “threshold,” or greedy overreach may trigger an unintended war.


  2. Speaking of machine guns, I recently wrote an article on how they are employed in firefights, and how almost no one understands what factors determine their tactical effect.

    I refer this to you because I'm not entirely sure whether I was onto something tangible or not. Also, since I advocate using the 7.62mm NATO cartridge, I wrote another post on how that extra weight could be managed.

    1. I'm not necessarily right either...

      Anon was correct about the MG 42 RoF.

      The 13.7 g weight for a brass case is higher than the figures I've seen and aluminium has such different properties than steel or brass that it needs a different shaping (thickness).
      Overall cartridge weight savings on the order of 10-20% seem more realistic after taking into account all the troubles of a material change.

    2. I think the main drive with my machine gun article was recognising that light and medium mgs have fundamentally different target profiles, but people discuss them as if they are interchangeble. A GPMGs role is to fire from longer ranges against groups of soldiers, while an LMGs role is to fire from medium ranges against individuals. The weapons beaten zone is largely a matter of distance, and tests like the ones mentioned by jim storr can give the misleading conclusion that GPMGs are somehow inferior to an LMG.

      As for the weight of 7.62x51mm cartridges, you actually are right. I came upon this webpage (http://masterpostemple.bravepages.com/762mil.htm), and it turns out that an M80 ball cartridge weighs 12.96 grams. Not a big difference, but I'll edit my post regardless. Maybe I was being overoptimistic with my estimate of a 70% weight decrease, but only 10% or 20% savings, come on! Aluminum cases are a major advantage over brass, although you couldn't use them in machine guns, since the different thermal propertys would allow heat to build up too rapidly.

    3. So you think there's maybe a 50% weight saving possible after decades of R&D on the topic yet almost no bureaucracy making the move?
      They're not outright stupid.

      There are reasons why tenders such as this
      don't require 30, 50 or 70% weight saving.