Military theory and recent conflicts

To be honest, I struggle a bit with some prominent Carl von Clausewitz (CvC) concepts in recent conflicts. They don't seem to fit to a certain kind of conflict at all, and I don't mean guerilla wars since that's widely acknowledged to be what CvC didn't add due to his early death.
The conflicts that resemble the Spanish Civil War in regard to tactical and operational level such as Bosnia and Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Syria) don't seem to have much European-style art of war in use. It's mostly "positional warfare by militia", "warlord's warbands" and "foreign ideologue volunteer forces": Warfare by amateurs that built up lightly armed forces with bottom-up created organisations that function well up to about the size of a regiment.
Daesh stands out with its ability to form a somewhat coherent force rather of corps size, complete with a hard core of most motivated fighters used (up) as mobile shock troops (a pattern known from Afghan warfare of the 80's and 90's).

Maybe I miss a lot of relevant info and cannot see many of CvC's main ideas at work for this reason.

Yet it's for sure that to most new civil war factions politics didn't come first, followed (extended) by warfare. Warfare is thus no continuation of their politics. To most of them it rather seems to be the raison d'être - even on an individual ideological level ("72 virgins"). That's but one example - the lack of a decisive battle is striking as well.

All that CvC stuff, the various lists of 'principles of war' etc. seem so much more interesting in regard to (unrealistic) NATO/EU defence scenarios than in the actually ongoing wars that make it into our news.
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Meanwhile, West Pacific war scenarios seem to resolve around the question whether China could overrun Taiwan and take out U.S. airpower bases (floating and on the ground) for good before its amphibious capability and/or economy (electrical powerplants as critical bottleneck?) were taken out by U.S. forces. That would be a race towards different objectives rather than an opportunity for much manoeuvre or high art of war. A strategic surprise would already 'win' the conflict on the military level.

A race towards different objectives would be -if I remember correctly- barely covered in military theory*. The usual assumption is a symmetrical set of objectives, in all classics from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz.
Warden's stupid rings were a unilateral theory, with a rather passive opponent - yet still no race towards different objectives. Well, and Xenophon, since he described a fighting withdrawal.


*: On the tactical level there's "pursuit" that's a race towards different objectives, but it's not fitting to the context above.


RMA infantry

I remember some typical RMA-style graphics about infantry of the future; unlike the current fashion of Robocop-like suits and exoskeletons those 1990's artist's impressions showed infantrymen as forward observers: Their weapon was merely for self defence (PDW; not full-blown assault rifles), while their main firepower was in their ability to call fires on target by radio.
The idea conveyed was that a team of two men could devastate a tank company, and this would be the infantryman of the future - not a specialised forward observer. The forward observer was the infantryman of the future.

I instinctively rejected this for years, but I also gave it a tiny chance: I was trying to figure out how and why this could possibly work out in some way or another.

- - - - -

Back to the Second World War; as German infantry became rare in 1944 and the Eastern Front to be held still extended to more than 2,000 km the primary method for defending said line (more a discretionary string of positions) was to work with massed, quick artillery fires. The majority of attacks that were foiled were apparently foiled before the attack reached small arms range of defenders; by artillery fires on marshalling areas and approaching troops.
The weaker the infantry line, the more important was reconnaissance and artillery.

This approach had its limits, but also many successes. It's still an important one for 'economy of force' missions. These missions are necessary because the main effort requires a great deal of strength, and all other efforts must only be resourced enough to avert disaster (Schwerpunkt idea: Resource your main effort as much as possible to maximize the odds of success, and divert only as many resources to other tasks as required to avert disasters elsewhere).

My typical opinion on this is extremely close to Jagdkampf without some unrealistic expectations, and thus not noteworthy.
Let's see whether "forward observer" future infantry could succeed at least in this economy of force role:
Their survivability would depend on stealth by a great deal, and small team sizes surely enhance stealth. The alternative would be platoon-sized elements, but that would not be as economical, and possibly lead to more casualties even though probably less teams would fail entirely.

Economy of force missions may succeed by bluffing (deterrence), but once the hostiles decide to attack, the defence would be forced into a delaying action. It's unlikely that this delaying action could succeed enough to stop the attack entirely; it's a rare occasion historically.

Now it's obvious that 'forward observer infantry' calling in fires would cause some attrition to the attacker, but would they slow him down? Actually, lethality forces caution (or extreme rapidity) on an attacker, and this may very well slow him down a lot (example article). There is a point at which more caution and slowness is no better than dashing forward, though.
One of the principal problems of delaying actions with indirect fire is that the hostile ground forces would not need to bunch up ("mass") for duel situations; they could disperse. Dispersed forces are no efficient targets for most indirect fire support, though this changes with PGMs to some degree.

Forward observer future infantry
indirect fires support

Now let's add a third element to drive up the risks of offensive action for hostiles and bolster the morale of the forward observer future infantry: Quick reaction forces.
Typically one might think of heliborne forces because of their undisputed ability to traverse all kinds of terrain at the speed of a racing car on a racing track. Motorized companies could fit the bill just as well, though.
Their duel combat capability would force the opposing forces to bunch up again, and to be extra careful in many other ways as well.
Finally, there's a crossover between quick reaction forces and indirect fires support; close air support by fixed and rotary wing aviation. This one would only intervene if a major drive forward by hostile forces was actually observed already.

One could call said "forward observer future infantry" "skirmishers", "sniper teams" or "long range recce teams" as well. They could  - combined with unmanned sensors - be an answer to economy of force missions if a highly elastic defence that readily gives up much terrain for military advantages was tolerable in the political arena and feasible with the ground forces' institutional mindset.

One might even extend it forward, as classic long range recce patrols, in order to gain depth. This is probably why I was able to look at the RMA-esque idea at all; I've been thinking about LRRP/LRS myself a lot since it became known that guided rocket artillery can provide effective fires to 80 km and beyond.

In the end, this whole text just made the case that maybe the delineation between infantry types should not be between "light" and "mechanised", but between "main effort"/"QRF" and "economy of force"/"skirmisher" type infantry, with the former being about employment in battalion battlegroups and the latter being about dispersed small unit actions.



Laser-tethered drones

One of the drawbacks of battlefield aerial drones is the radio link, another one is their endurance of minutes or few hours that requires some extra effort for near-continuous coverage.

Both could be avoided to some degree by wireless (laser) power transfer and by non-radio (laser) communication. Power transfer by laser is possible and was demonstrated; a small quadcopter could hover for hours, if not days. Such a quadcopter could communicate with a base vehicle by a two-way laser link. Its service could continue during movements of the base vehicle if the latter's laser system was stabilized well. It could also "sit" on some high vantage point (some roof) and receive wireless power for operation as a de facto unattended ground sensor on an overwatch position.

It could serve
(1) as a vehicle-accompanying flying eye with bird's view (IIR and E/O)
(2) as a radio relais* and passive radio direction finder
(3) as laser target designator
(4) as a wind vector sensor
(5) as radar warning receiver** and passive radar direction finder
(6) as laser communications relay for no radio emissions communication over several km distance***
(7) remote IFF interrogations without disclosing the base vehicle's position
(8) assuming enough power transfer, a LIDAR sensor could be employed

The laser-tethered drone could keep enough battery power for a safe return without wireless power transfer and it could operate at distances of up to 3,000 metres. Platoon-level laser-tethered drone would probably stay within 500-1,000 m, though.

Such drones could profoundly change the way small units and units 'see' the battlefield.**** Areas concealed from such a bird's view would be of prime interest, and likely be penetrated by other drones or human scouts to close gaps in the surveillance.

Periods of strong winds, fog or heavy precipitation would suppress such a laser-tethered drone capability and constitute phases of vulnerability similar to how some forces in the Mid East attack during sand storms to avoid air strikes.

Both the very much changed 'normal' perception of the battlefield with the potential of mobile ops with radio-like communications during radio silence AND the increased importance of 'blackout' periods could change land warfare doctrines substantially - across the whole "spectrum of conflict" (sorry for the buzzword). It's been easy to find technology-centric texts on wirelessly powered aerial drones since about 2008, but the changes of behaviour and purposeful tactical repertoires (tactical freedom of action) are more intriguing, and not so commonplace:

How much would blocks in the line of sight such as hills, patches of woodland, small settlements, dust thrown up by artillery strikes and smoke lose their relevance?
Would the smallest practical units of manoeuvre change because less terrain features would provide adequate concealment for movements?
Would surveillance with bird's view be powerful enough that attack even against a mere delaying action defence would become unacceptable unless the drone threat was suppressed with dedicated and "all troops" battlefield air defences?
Would drones and their spare parts become a bulk supply concern due to high attrition?
Could a deception effort be staged by simulating entire battalion battlegroups in defensive position by a mere dozen drones supported by two or three vehicles?
Would manoeuvre element leaders avoid movement through terrains that block the line of sight to drones such as woodland and settlements?
Would vehicle positions behind buildings become the new "reverse slope defence"?
Would proper shielding of movements against observation require smoke not one-dimensionally on the ground, but two-dimensionally up to hundreds of metres altitude?
Would officers on the ground become more aware of and involved in the low altitude air combat situation down to small unit leaders?
Would officers become accustomed and dependent enough on bird's eye view and surveillance in general to become timid if not ordering withdrawals once lines of sight for such drones were disrupted by smoke and dust?
Would we add information about areas with often out of bounds winds to our (digital) maps, adding a new topographical feature of relevance?
Would the (im)balance of power between mechanised and dismounted forces, or military and paramilitary forces, change because the whole system including the base vehicle could be inexpensive and largely be made with COTS equipment?
Would the base vehicle crew hesitate to conceal itself when this would cause a disruption of the line of sight to their laser-tethered drone?
Would tanks require an additional crew member to make good use of the bird's eye view or would the tank commander use this instead of his independent viewer on the vehicle?

Most of these questions could be satisfactorily answered in trials or actual warfare only.


*: For communication beyond line of sight and to avoid a correct triangulation of the base vehicle by opposing forces.
**: An electronic warfare capability that rarely gets much public attention in the context of ground forces. Increasingly important in light of tanks' active protection systems.
***: This could be as simple as revealing a reflector device that makes reflections of the base vehicle's laser coding visible to other drones or vehicles.
****: If they were freed from red tape such as required permissions in an airspace deconfliction regime.


Future threats

(I wrote most of this IIRC in 2013 without publishing it. I do stand by it even despite the events since.)

There appears to be a wide-spread interest in future threats among security policy-interested people. Such crystal ball actions usually result in the citing of trends and in highlighting countries or governments one doesn't like.

Honestly, I've never felt that this way of doing business is useful. It's not just the relatively poor track record that should put a question mark behind the approach. It's not the uninspired language , the fear-mongering or the consensus-theme if done by committees. All these issues should irritate as well, but another one is the knock-out problem:

Those future threats from such studies are usually no threat, but it's still possible to enter a brawl with them if one insists on it.*

This reminds me somewhat of ministries or departments of defence that should be called "war ministry" instead.
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I'm trying to turn this into a constructive critique, of course. That's easy, for I will simply lay out how I approach these things, on the example of Germany:

Step 1: Look at a map.
Step 2: Think.

Seriously, I would never come up with the idea that some loudmouth government from thousands of kilometres away could turn into an actual threat. We can get into a brawl with them, but that's because we would be a threat to them.
No, primitive ballistic missiles of somewhat long range don't change this, and errorists are a problem for lightly armed bureaucracies (police), not for heavily armed ones (military).

So from a German point of view, I think of six possible threats, and I am glad to say that all of them are to date utterly unrealistic.

(1) European civil war

(2) Russia with more allies and much different economy than it has today

(3) Turkey with very different allies than it has today (relevant to European allies, not to Germany directly)

(4) Arabs

(5) Israel (enforcement of an embargo, for example)

(6) United States of America (naval conflict only unless the UK sides with them)

As mentioned before, all of them sound utterly ridiculous today and that's just perfect.
Great times.

For some reason, many other people interested in security policy have an intrinsic need for an enemy. They cannot really bear to have no real threat, and consequently hype up no-threats.
I think I am missing this intrinsic need and also believe said need is really something that psychology researchers should educate the general populace about (if they understand it themselves).

My approach has an additional benefit; it narrows down climate and terrain to relatively familiar types. There's no need to be concerned about Korean hills if you don't feel that North Korea should be taken seriously as a threat to your country. Nor do you need to be bothered by the Climate in the Arabian Peninsula.

*: Australians should let sink this in.


FBI admits no major cases cracked with Patriot Act snooping powers


FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Thursday (...)

Nor can BND or BKA, apparently. Previous lists of allegedly mass surveillance-supported CT successes were destroyed even in cursory reviews by investigative journalists.

Authoritarian-minded people only presume that this kind of stuff* works. Just as they simply presumed torture would work. Or they watched too much TV and are much too manipulable.

Either way, the evidence still overwhelmingly points at all the mass surveillance having negligible utility, meanwhile it's obvious that it's cutting away a big chunk of civil liberty.


*: A.k.a. "Stasi-, KGB- and Gestapo-like interest in snooping and torture".


Mirage 2000 tests new Indian highway


It's a weird way to show the quality of a road construction project to the public, but I'm grateful for the video because it shows to the public how narrow a road suffices for an auxiliary runway. The usual videos about exercises on German Autobahnen showed the use of wider roads only.

This doesn't help NATO much, though. NATO is in love with huge airbases only. There doesn't seem to be any interest in using auxiliary airfields, and thus all that attention is being paid to expensive aerial tankers even for missions on NATO's periphery.



Krugman: Blinkers and Lies

"(...) the crucial thing to understand is that the invasion wasn’t a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war. And we shouldn’t let that ugly truth be forgotten."
 Paul Krugman


Another fact check: Military hardware novelty

So the Russians showed off their new main battle tank prototypes, and the surprise was modest. The biggest innovation was to reduce the tank crew to three in a front hull compartment, with an unmanned turret. This has been discussed and tested since the 1980's at the latest. You can find this configuration presented in the few decent books on tank technology as the way to go to enhance crew survivability with modest armor weight. The downside is that nobody has a hatch on the turret top with all-round view, but all that equipment on the roof (CITV, machineguns, laser warner, antennae) reduced this benefit long ago already. The new German IFV "Puma" has an unmanned turret as well.

T-14 "Armata"MBT prototype on parade, (c) Соколрус

Everything else was quite ordinary conceptually. Some of the features were reported as if they were novelties, but main gun-launched missiles have actually been introduced in the Red Army during the 1970's already, for example.
To be fair; the recent Japanese Type 10 medium tank
was (superficially) much less innovative.

I know many consider an unmanned turret only as an intermediate step; they long for an unmanned tank. Typically, they use the current Pentagon buzzword for it: "UGV". Drones or robots they are. And they aren't new; the idea is really old:

Look at lower right for the date ... !
I'm under the impression that some of the high profile unmanned vehicles (EOD robots, sentry robot cars, motorglider-like drones, turbofan-powered stealth drones) of today will have a brutal reality check during the next years, when seemingly old school equipment will be appraised as crucial and purchased in large quantities. We already see a move back towards more main battle tanks, and the CFE treaty de facto doesn't limit this any more since the Russians gave it up.

This means old school military theory about "conventional warfare" will regain popularity and prestige, and a likely busy field will be theories about countering salami slice strategies and strategic coup de mains. Mountain warfare theory will likely linger on in its near-coma, since after Afghanistan there's no likely terrain for major Western conflict participation in mountainous regions other than maybe the Caucasus (Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh). Eastern Europe is rather flat save for Western Ukraine and some coastal strip on the Crimea.




UK likely to give up freedom of speech, press, religion

The Conservatives have won the UK elections, and elections have consequences:

They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.
It will also contain new powers to close premises including mosques where extremists seek to influence others.

In essence, advocating any ideas or working for any political outcomes regarded by British politicians as “extremist” will not only be a crime, but can be physically banned in advance.

The UK cannot be considered "democratic" because of the unelected House of Lords (and the First-past-the-post voting system for the House of Commons) anyway, but this new policy looks more obviously like an attack on basic rights.

Anti-civil rights policies are prominently being pushed in France, Britain* and Hungary, but so far the public maintains the illusion that only Hungary is drifting away from democracy.
Germany is at risk because of the conservatives in power, but the legislative branch and public pressure keep the march into a more autocratic state slow. It's two steps forwards, one step backwards here.



Disclosure: It's possible to ban both organized crime and anti-constitution organizations (even parties) in Germany. This happened to the communist party in the 50's and to quite a lot of obvious Neonazi groups so far, in addition to actual organized crime and terrorist organizations. This is a simple ban, which dissolves the organization and takes its possessions and outlaws the foundation of a successor organization. It's not about censorship of the press. The bar is quite high and the recent effort to get the current far right NPD party banned failed.

*: "Funny" how having nukes does totally not help against being fearful.


Brusselstimes: "The head of the Intelligence service gave false information on attacks"


Sometimes I wonder why there are intelligence services like that at all. Almost all their claims of having been useful get debunked. What's not getting debunked are the lists of what harm they did.

I have a suspicion that sooner or later the judiciary branches in Europe will force an end onto the mass surveillance efforts by proclaiming them criminal (which is not far-fetched; you need extraordinary authorization to eavesdrop on others' communications).



"The successful 70-year campaign to convince people the USA and not the USSR beat Hitler"


I'm somewhat annoyed by even supposedly reputable media claiming that WW2 ended on 8th May 1945. There was still fighting going on in Europe till May 11th in Europe*, and the War in East and Southeast Asia didn't end till September '45. Many perceptions of WW2 have been warped by the Cold War and time in general.




Brace yourself again


China will hold joint naval drills with Russia in mid-May in the Mediterranean Sea, the first time the two countries will hold military exercises together in that part of the world, the Chinese Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

China and Russia have held naval drills in Pacific waters since 2012. The May maneuvers come as the United States ramps up military cooperation with its allies in Asia in response to China's increasingly assertive pursuit of maritime territorial claims.

I'm not completely innocent, though.


John Stewart interview with Judith Miller about Iraq War prelude


Ignoring her person, the bad bias in this case was
1) Preferring to err on the side of the pro-confrontation side.
2) Pretending that 'we' rely on intelligence services for information about other countries.



German police and firearms use

Do you remember how I proudly cited official statistics about how few (dozens) shots German police fired at humans in a whole year?

Well, we can forget about those statistics. The police statistic is proved to lie now.

Allegedly, the police forces in Germany fired only 85 shots in anger (other than against animals) during 2011, 36 of which aimed at people (the others warning shots).

It turns out that a single SEK ('SWAT') unit alone fired 109 shots at one suspect during 2011 within seconds.

And I may add, the video shows an astonishing degree of incompetence (one policeman running backwards during the firefight, including the then-inevitable stumbling).

Oh, yeah - and they lied about what happened (trying to get the suspect incarcerated) until the video surfaced.

Well, these news suck.


edit 2016: This SWAT team had been disbanded in the meantime, to be re-established with new personnel apparently.