Our addictions

A recurring irritation to me in close air support discussions is that Americans assert that you absolutely need the ability of an CAS aircraft to swoop down and strafe targets barely outside of hand grenade throwing distance to friendlies. This has always been a curious assertion, because there's exactly one military in the world which places enough emphasis on this alleged necessity to maintain much of this capability (or something resembling it). The Russians have a similar aircraft, but its preferred ammunitions demand a much greater minimum distance.
It's obviously no universal necessity. In fact, the USAF has just like the Soviets/Russians begun to use its dedicated CAS aircraft almost exclusively at above 15,000 ft long ago.
But this is not a unique phenomenon; perceiving something as a necessity that's not really necessary. All Western military forces are hooked up on some capabilities and items which are rather "nice to have" than "necessary".

An example would be dentists. There's absolutely no need for them in a military. You can send your bad teeth owners to civilian dentists instead.

What about all those more or less small 4x4 passenger vehicles? Most of the time there's but one or two men in them, they could just as well ride a motorcycle. This motorcycle could be attached to some truck when not needed, saving on the share of drivers in a unit and cutting down convoy lengths. Having them ride a real truck (with much payload) instead would cut down on convoy size (and driver requirements) as well.

Battlefield helicopters. How exactly did armies fight wars when there were none? More ambulance cars. Helicopters may turn out to be utterly non-survivable in a conflict between great powers anyway; the contrary has at least never been proved. They are weather-dependent as well, so you actually need a full size ambulance car backup.

Anti-tank guided missiles. Why exactly do we need them? Main battle tanks have guns to deal with their kind, and dismounted troops' best bet to survive hostile MBTs is to stay out of their line of sight anyway; hide in buildings or woodland, or in ditches. ATGMs and their predecessors, the anti-tank guns, have a mixed historical record at best, with great success only against poorly led or otherwise inferior quality tank forces. Modern ATGMs appear to be overwhelmed by current ATGM countermeasures (save for HVMs).

Infantry weapons with more than 300 metres range. Only idiots or completely unaware hostiles will expose themselves to detection at greater ranges than 300 metres. I personally suck at spotting 'hostiles' even as close as 100 metres and can hide myself from their view within 20 metres on many different terrains. Even while moving, exposure can often be kept insufficient for detection until one is within 50-100 metres or so. The few inept hostiles who will expose themselves at 400+ metres will catch a bullet quite soon anyway, so why is the hurry to do it at such a range already? It's true, allied forces have repeatedly complained that they were unable to return PKM fire effectively if the enemy was far away, but I've yet to see a report claiming that a PKM's fire was actually effective at such a range in the first place. Ammunition is not meant for mere psychological relief.

Lavish logistical support. Not too long ago, drivers were also mechanics. The maintenance and repair of their vehicle was part of their driver's training. Somehow this was (mostly) lost to modern army wheeled vehicle crews. Workshops should be limited to repair badly mauled vehicles; even an engine and gearbox exchange can be done by a trained vehicle crew if the truck is designed for it. You don't need a workshop for it. I've seen a lot of awesome improvisations for lifting engines out of vehicles or raising vehicles from the ground for working underneath.
The same applies to supply services. Many mobile actions run out of steam after four days due to physical and psychical exhaustion of the troops anyway (officers even more than others). Supply columns usually arrive no more often than every second day. Why not simply operate in four-day bounds, and carry five days worth of supplies within the unit? The serially emptied supplies-carrying vehicles could be sent back in small packets (loaded with lightly wounded, prisoners, captured material and material in need of rear area repair) every day, and return on about every fourth day with new supplies.

Voice radio with its relatively high bandwidth requirements. I'm no SMS typing artist, but I've seen girls typing incredibly fast. They sure don't need voice to communicate almost as quick as I do with voice. And modern software is able to recognize spoken words and turn them into written text.
I've never liked voice (analogue) radio anyway. Didn't understand much among all those static sounds. Modern digital radios are better and can compress data, but text messages would still only require a tiny fraction of the bandwidth and make jamming more difficult.

Full motorization with military vehicles. Why is that? We used to be able to supplant the army with civilian vehicles in times of need. Is any conflict bad enough to send men to die, but not bad enough to commandeer some civilian trucks? There are now many more civilian 4x4 vehicles in Germany than the Wehrmacht had motor vehicles in 1938. More than we have trained soldiers and reservists in their best years. The same goes for trucks. Why do we even bother with dedicated military vehicle standards if the vehicles used on soft soil construction sites and in forestry greatly outnumber the military vehicles? Sure, military vehicles drive little and shall be used for decades, but this only means some components need to be revised for greater life, not entirely different vehicle designs. Civilian trucking is almost all about semi-trailers - how many semi-trailers apart from tank transports did you ever see in an army? Aren't the palletized load systems of the military world (MULTI/DROPS/PLS) incompatible with at least some of the systems used by the civilian trucks which handle the trash containers on construction sites?

Backup pistols. An idea from "white" anglophone countries that the rest of the world doesn't quite consider a necessity. Pistols have a mere policing role in the German army, for example.

Large staffs. It's about time to destroy the entire modern idea of staffs and re-start back at WW2 staff sizes, when an army group HQ resembled a modern times' divisional HQ (some Western divisional HQs broke the 1,000 personnel mark years ago, though modern-time Bundeswehr Div HQs are smaller). Corps HQs including security and signallers were company-sized and divisional HQs were platoon-sized with a mere dozen officers. Our brigade HQs should be smaller than our present battalion HQs are.
Smaller staffs are quicker staffs, and they're forced to focus on what matters much. Leaders had to ensure that mostly high-performing officers served on their staff and much bullshit was impossible for want of staff manpower. Civilian product development practice (such as software projects) revealed that development teams of sizes up to 40 make much sense, with time required for communication growing too much with larger teams. I'm quite sure there were plenty parallel observations done on military staffs.

You don't agree with the examples? No problem, the examples aren't the point. Think for yourself; what's really necessary and what's merely luxury we got used to?



  1. Suppressive firepower is not valued enough, by you at least.

    Axis reinforcements to overwhelm the Normandy landing were attacked by Allied airpower, forcing them to move at night. For want of a nail...

    Airpower makes what would be a linear frontline into a three dimensional battlespace.

    Large staffs have grown because of a great need for military intelligence, I think. Not sure about this assertion.

    1. Suppressive firepower is meant to support during short exposures such as movement, for it's expending supplies at an unsustainable rate.
      I don't think its utility counters my point on infantry combat ranges.

      "three dimensional battlespace" is a buzzword, no end in itself.

      On the value of much MI: Beyond some point more isn't better:
      ... and that point was arguably reached with WW2 staff organisations, for many post-WW2 HQs were horribly expensive and slow.

    2. Your concept of suppressive firepower is very limited. Even firing AA missiles at an aircraft, forcing it to abort it's mission, is more along the lines of suppressive fire as opposed to precision fire.

    3. I don't have my own concept of suppressive fires - I use the standard concepts thereof, relevant to small unit and unit tactics, battalion-level tactics and artillery tactics. Suppression in air warfare is very limited, and mostly about SEAD and comm jamming.

      I do have my own concept of repulsion, though - and you may like it:

  2. Sven, on the matter of large staff I would like you to maybe return to a topic you'd addressed earlier: the example of the 2003 invasion of Iraq to illustrate the modern orders cycle in armored warfare. How the maneuver creates opportunities so frequently, that the armored commander in that war faced a far shorter interval between the need to issue relevant orders than we train for in peacetime exercises. Do you think today's large staff are necessary to realize this rapid coordination of arms, as opposed to relying on highly cooperative leaders alone?

    1. I suppose the staff organisation could be improved as very much else by free-plying competitive exercises.
      Good COs tend to carve a tiny tactical HQ out of their bloated one to cope with challenging situations.

      The staff size problem is a typical bureaucracy growth problem; they don't get reality checks or exposed in mass media, so there's no pressure holding them back from following their natural bureaucratic growth instinct.

    2. "Do you think today's large staff are necessary to realize this rapid coordination of arms,"

      Quite the opposite
      More staff gives a slower performance, not a quicker one, because its not a case of 1 HQman = one order per hour.

      If HQ1 gives an order, he then needs to be brief HQs 2-40 on that order, before HQ2 can give a sensible order.
      HQ2 then needs to brief 1 and 3-40, before 3 can move and so, otherwise command becomes random.
      The more HQ you have, the more time HQ spends updating itself on its own actions.

      The problem is, the larger staff, in peace time exercises expand their order giving powers, to (appear to) contribute, so whereas it should be a company captain making a decision, its a HQ Major or Colonel, not even the Battalion Major of Colonel.
      In war time, when there is no script and unexpected events happen, orders that the HQ have taken control over, occur far more often than the HQ officers can deal with.
      Rather than asking, do I need to make this decision, the HQ just grabs more staff.
      And at peace time, the enlarged HQ expands it remit to justify itself.

      We end up with individual guns asking Brigadiers for permission to fire.
      God knows what the next step is,
      Soldier: Im being shot at
      HQ: Ok, fill out an Im under fire form and a target identification form, we'll send you a response by post

      Soldier: Ok, I got my permission to fire form back, I shot at him, but missed, can I fire again.
      HQ: Sure, just send us a permission to continue fireing form

      HQ: Okay, we've received your form, unfortunately, you're in a hearts and minds zone, we try not to escalate the situation, so, we're sending you a handbook on none violent conflict resolution, let us know how it goes.

      "the need to issue relevant orders"
      *Need* is an important word here.

      How many orders "need" to be given by HQ, and what disaster would occur if one wasnt issued?
      How many orders given by HQ would be better being decided upon locally?

    3. I'm trying to get a global picture of what might be an ideal state of affairs taking the topics in your blog:

      1. The will to cooperate. You need competent and reasonable leaders. The rapid coordination that takes opportunities in warfare comes from the personnel system recognizing personalities that work well together, unfettered by unnecessary procedure.

      2. Will to risk. I don't know about this one in the modern context. So many media are networked globally, from a helmet camera to domestic polls. Every institution in the West must now see media perception as the overriding factor in conduct of their affairs, and this leads to a very risk-adverse culture. Taking the risk to make bold and unorthodox solutions even in crisis, seems to be an attitude that is far more discouraged nowadays than in the past.

      3. Force organization reflecting these. Again, I feel heavy staff and deliberate restraints on freedom of action are natural outgrowths of risk adversity: accountability as a euphemism for shifting the blame elsewhere.

      Your ideas seem to me very sound and laudable, but I'm pessimistic that in an age where existential threats are viewed as a relic of the distant past, any reform in a direction that embraces stripping away the refuge of procedural accountability could actually take root.

    4. Hmm my above post ended up in the sub-thread about staff size and coordination... I meant to broach those thoughts separately...

      On topic, I would say that your idea regarding the elements of horizontal cooperation would largely answer your last question, since a superior would trust his subordinate to do as seen fit. We always come back to the personalities of the leaders.

  3. I like the motorcycle idea. You can put up to three persons on such a vehicle that is much cheaper than a car and can go on routes inaccessible to cars.
    The staff concept, I'm not sure about. You certainly need a small group for effective communication, but a large group to do information supply work as required. The word staff probably gets misused, but practice seems to reflect effective structures. Dividing a staff into a number of small effective sections and establishing a working fast cooperation seems the way to go. You can have your 40 persons with 2-3 having a bunch of guys they can delegate work to in order to focus on important tasks.

    CAS is interesting, The current UAV development could strengthen CAS, information access and denial. How close air Support should be is an interesting question. The opinion of the US carries a lot of weight due to their percentage of global military spending. All others have to carve out solutions with less access to material. Whether or not these can be judged better I can not decide. I do think that a light armed unmanned CAS craft could alter the situation in your favoured elusive combat with lots of ambushes. CAS is maybe overpowered if it kills heavy armour, but taking out infantry, lightly armoured vehicles and suppressing sensors and countermeasures of well defended sites would be suitable task for expendable CAS crafts.

  4. -- Not too long ago, drivers were also mechanics. The maintenance and repair of their vehicle was part of their driver's training. Somehow this was (mostly) lost to modern army wheeled vehicle crews. --

    A friend of mine who was an AAV driver in the USMC told me that his crew preferred doing maintenance and repair for themselves whenever possible rather than intrusting it to the dedicated mechanics. That's just a single anecdote, of course, and you did say "mostly," after all.

  5. On staff sizes, the old British concept of "command supremacy" seemed to make a lot of sense. No one in a commander's staff outranked next commander down. Brigade staff was headed by a "brigade major" who did not outrank the LCols commanding the battalions, for example. Can certainly see how that would conflict with rank bloat though...

  6. I suspect there's one serious limitation to your idea of motorcycles and parasitic vehicles replacing 4x4. It's the simple fact that 4x4s are more comfortable and can carry more gucci kit...

    1. A G wagon doesn't carry gucci kit, and it's not really comfortable for someone who drives an Audi privately.

      A counter-argument could rather be radio comms, which are a bit more intricate with bicycles than in a car..

  7. The irony with staff bloat is that even with all those people, none of them can conduct sustained 24-hour operations.

    As for motorcycles, I suspect the reason they aren't used more often is that too many people fall off when driving cross country. It's much harder (though not impossible) for a careless staff officer to fall out of a jeep.

    1. Back in pre-motorization days a platoon leader or company CO was provided with a horse, so he would not tire out before his men do and he could still move back and forth for meetings with Bn HQ. Well, this and officer prestige/privilege not to need to march on foot.

      The case for a motorcycle for such one-man movement (which I didn't invent - it's an old proposal) is that it's not more demanding, and the natural successor of the horse.

      I did merely add the 'parasitic' thing to the proposal, inspired by trucks carrying their own forklift and motor caravans carrying their own (motor)bikes (sometimes even internally).
      This means nobody needs to ride the bike during an administrative march in adverse conditions, and nobody needs to care for it while the officer is away without it.

  8. Not sure what happened to an earlier comment of mine. Well, at the very least, a G-wagen provides shelter from the elements. Moreover, even a small pack of gucci kit in the back is still gucci kit.

    Not that I'm defending this practice, mind...

  9. I use an electric motorcycle with a reach of 300 km. One tankful (300 km) costs me 57 cent and to reaload the rechargable battery needs only 1 hour with a speed loading device. electro motorcycles are very stealthy (incredibel quiety) and also have a longer lifespan than normal motorcycles. and the are damn fast, i can reach 100 km/h from 0 in only 3 seconds.

    I wonder why these are not used in the military.

  10. "Ammunition is not meant for mere psychological relief." Uh. Yeah it is - morale is critical, surely, and expending some ammo to bolster (or rather prevent deterioration) of morale strikes me as generally a quite acceptable use of it.

    Otherwise I think you have some excellent examples

  11. There once used to be a contraption called "Kettenkrad". It could carry 3-4 people, was smaller than a 4x4 vehicle and could handle rough terrain well thanks to the tracks. Concerning this discussion, you could put 2 guys and a lot of radio equipment on it, too. I wonder why it disappeared (i know, changing a tire is easier than repairing tracks, but still...), You could use a mixture of these and normal motorcycles.

    The idea of the electric motorcycle seems also very interesting.

    1. The Kettenkrad required track-style maintenance, provided track-style low economical cruise speeds and did cost insanely much. It was justified only as a towing vehicle for mountain and airborne troops.

      The successors of the Kettenkrad are today's snowmobiles and 6x6 ATVs.