The Baltic Sea and Baltic Defence

I've encountered once again an all-too well-known theme; the idea that navies might in some way or another be relevant to the Baltic defence.

I say forget the navies in this context! Even assuming NATO would dare to move substantial surface task forces far east in the Baltic Sea, they would not have much effect. They could just as well launch a couple cruise missiles from afar.

You cannot reliably use any Baltic harbour in a Baltic defence scenario; the Baltic Sea is a freshwater sea at the surface, high salinity is only present at more than 40 m depth.

This Swedish graphic shows the maximum ice coverage:
(c) Swedish Maritime Administration

The regions covered in ice in the left graphic would have the greatest ice thickness in the right graphic.

Real photos are sometimes more convincing than abstract maps, so ESA satellite photo this shows how even when the ice cover is modest, the Baltic region will largely be behind ice (there's a single usually all-year ice-free harbour in Lithuania):

click for larger image (c) ESA
A convenient political map of the Baltic Sea region is here.

Frozen seas can be traversed with support of an icebreaker, and cleared lanes can be used by ships with approx. 1,000 hp power per metric ton weight (which warships usually have) according to a rule of thumb. Yet the precious few icebreakers should not be relied on. To sabotage or attack them at the beginning of an invasion would be rather easy, and some actually are Russian icebreakers. 

The complicated hydrography (with the huge difference in salinity depending on depth and location) of the Baltic Sea poses quite a challenge for MCM and ASW specialists; the Germans and Danes are experienced in this area, British, French, Spanish, Italian and American personnel not so much.

Now about problems caused by ice cover in addition to navigation:
ASW ships could also suffer from damage to bow sonars due to ice collisions and MCM ships often have a wooden hull surface that would not be suitable for passing even through cleared lanes, much less thin ice. Aircraft carriers could not freely turn into the wind to facilitate aircraft launches with full fuel and much payload. Accidents happen with inexperienced bridge crews who never before cooperated with icebreakers. Submarine operations are impeded under the ice; sub-launched missiles would not be available, periscope IFF would not be available, snorkeling would not be available and radio communications would be limited as well. On the other hand, sonobuoys could not be dropped, and helicopters' dipping sonars would be useless as well, so aerial ASW over ice is quite a dud in general.
Some nuclear attack submarines would be prepared to break through the ice once in a while, but the generally rather shallow waters don't suit the large SSNs well and their crews rarely if ever trained in this area.


I understand that naval-minded people like to think about uses for navies, but Baltic defence hardly is one. A deterrence against invasion needs to be effective all-year, and in worst case the defence (counterattack) needs to be successful all-year as well.

Likewise, I suppose air power-minded people will think about air attack as relevant, but again I doubt it. A Baltic defence conflict scenario would need to escalate to include Belarus (which the Russians better keep neutral and use as radar base and secure supply route) and the Ukraine (imaginable that sometime in the rather distant future they might want to re-take territory from Russia) in order to enlarge the area enough to make air attack potentially decisive.
A Baltics-only defence scenario could see a concentration of air defences that would take weeks to dismantle, if that succeeds at all. Russia could move several high-end air defence regiments from the Moscow area to Latvia by road within a week or so.

That's why I recently looked at the brigades (equivalents) count: I think the land forces and political decisions are all-important for Baltic deterrence and defence, with air and sea power being distant subordinates.



A guess why Da'esh doesn't advance any more

Recently I was in an e-mail conversation and noticed that I had not yet written about my interpretation why Da'esh isn't advancing any more.

I'll simply summarise it in my rather concise style as 

(1) The classic reason: They reached their culminating point.*

(2) Like the ancient Parthians, their way of war works best in certain terrains - low population density areas in which they can exploit their superior mobility both tactically and operationally. Compare the maps below:

(3) They'd need to grow in capacity (mostly troops quantity) to expand further, but the constant bloodletting by ground combat, bombardment, desertion and even killing or imprisoning their own kept them from sufficiently growing so far.

I'm not aware how exactly their personnel strength is developing (only estimates are available), but I dare predict that Da'esh won't expand much into more densely populated areas any time soon without a substantial increase in numerical strength.So in this sense the attritionist campaign by USAF et al was a status quo-keeping "success". I doubt Da'esh will collapse or shrink much any time soon without major ground offensives against it, though.


*: A reminder how classic military theory - even from the 19th century - can help interpret and understand events in modern warfare, no matter how "hybrid" or "4th generation" it may be .

edit 2015-11: The European Geostrategy blog agrees apparently.


Too late

It's almost as if mainstream followed me:

The most worrying trend in the Russian debate is the discussion of the “de-escalatory” use of nuclear weapons.This concept revolves around the use of an early limited nuclear strike to deter NATO intervention. As Stephen J.Blank, senior analyst for nuclear strategy at the US Army War College, sums up the concept: “If Russia should decide to invade or seize one or more Baltic State, then that would mean it is prepared to wage nuclear war against NATO and the United States to hold onto that acquisition although it would prefer not to, or thinks it could get away with it without having to do so. The idea behind such a ‘limited nuclear war’ is that Russia would seize control of the intra-war escalation process by detonating a first-strike even in a preventive or pre-emptive mode, and this would supposedly force NATO to negotiate a political solution that allows Russia to hold onto at least some of its gains.”

I wrote back in 2012-05:

This has its greatest potential in sudden flare-ups of border conflicts à la South Ossetia as well as in regard to a Ukraine breakup scenario or a Baltic coup de main scenario.
An aggressor might see his chance in a coup de main (strategic surprise) coupled with deterring a counteroffensive with fait accompli and nuke threat. Would we really risk WW4 armageddon if the Russians had overrun and annexed Estonia by next week? Would we launch a conventional offensive to liberate it? Russia ain't Iraq, it has nukes. A low force density counteroffensive might actually stay below this deterrent 's actual threshold (this idea would require a lot of elaboration, of course).
There's a catch, though: He quoted a source half a year older, which I've never seen till today:

Stephen J. Blank (Editor), U.S.Army War College/SSI (see page 327)

Too bad, now I can claim little more than a belated parallel insight.

It's interesting to see how little the usual suspects' (permahawk) proposals for countering a Russian threat are worth in  face of such a strategy: More spending, more, more, more - none of this addresses such a challenge. Meanwhile, I kinda did (here), which brings me back to this.



Military (Im-)Balance in Europe

I did a summary of the IISS' "Military Balance 2014" 2nd edition publication, a reference yearbook on the world's armed forces. My focus was on Europe; I summarized the military budgets of 2013 in US$ as given by the publication, the active military personnel strength without paramilitary forces and the quantity of army manoeuvre brigades.

The latter criterion is a bit difficult because "brigades" are not standardized, some small countries have only independent battalions instead and I chose to exclude "ISR" or other non-manoeuvre brigades, particularly from the EU forces. Some countries (Russia especially) had divisions not split in brigades, so I counted them in brigade equivalents. Greece's paper tiger brigades are distorting the statistic much, so I think the real brigade equivalent estimate is more realistic than the brigade count.

My summary is here in shape of a PDF file:
(I can send the xls file with some explanations by e-mail.)

Summary of the summary for the extra-lazies:

European EU and NATO members without Turkey:
budgets USD 256 bn
personnel 1.60 million
manoeuvre brigades 128
(estimated ~100 real brigade equivalents)

budgets USD 246 bn
personnel 1.51 million
manoeuvre brigades 123
(estimated ~ 100 real brigade equivalents)

European NATO without Turkey:
budgets USD 240 bn
personnel 1.51 million
manoeuvre brigades 103
(estimated ~ 80 real brigade equivalents)

Russia + Belarus:
budgets USD 68.7 bn
personnel 0.89 million
manoeuvre brigades 58 (only 18 facing Europe!)
(estimated 40-70 real brigade equivalents)

I know the concerns that many EU or NATO brigades are poor quality; I expressed some such concerns in the previous blog post. Yet military power is relative: The Russian army is still in a dire state itself.
I also agree that USD is a poor measurement for budget comparisons, but even PPP exchange rates don't satisfy everybody, and those who dismiss the budget comparisons have no case whatsoever to claim that Russia spends as much or more than EU or European NATO. No real world exchange rate would show that.
Furthermore, the personnel strengths - albeit distorted somewhat by civilian employees leading to an understatement particularly of EU forces - clearly point at a Russian inferiority, and the Russian inferiority is extreme in regard to what little military power they have in the Western Military District. This is even true today, despite the so-called "force concentrations" on the Ukrainian border.

Think about this, and how hysterical the usual suspects complain about European military spending being "only" 1.5% GDP, and how we supposedly need to arms race to make Europe capable of defending itself. The reality rather supports the view that we should cut expenses by a third to 1% GDP!

I've been thoroughly annoyed by ignorant or arrogant (or both) Americans and ignorant (or plain hawkish and lying) Europeans who pretend that Europe is militarily weak.
It's not weak at all. It's just not that easily motivated to run into stupid military adventures and few European governments are into interventionism or cruise missile diplomacy.

2009-05 The utility of NATO
2010-04 The military spending freeriding discussion
2014-01 European and Russian military capability
2014-11 Ukraine's wake-up call for NATO

Edit: Go here for a more recent IISS appraisal of the Russian Armed Forces. Their 2015 figure for the Russian military's real active strength is 771,000 troops, well short of their nominal strength. The Russian military and especially so the army had difficulty to attract enough recruits, and Russia only drafts about 300,000 (twice 150,000) men per year through presidential decrees. So only about 300,000 conscripts are in the military.


Critique of German army brigades

I did this before, this time I'll use the Panzerbrigade 21 "Lipperland", which is part of Panzerdivision 1.

Die Panzerbrigade 21 „LIPPERLAND“, als eine von drei Kampftruppenbrigaden der 1.Panzerdivision, führt mit dem Brigadestab ihre unterstellten Verbände und selbstständigen Einheiten, überwacht und steuert deren Ausbildung mit Blick auf das gesamte Einsatzspektrum der Streitkräfte.

Die Brigade hat den Auftrag, in Operationen verbundener Kräfte in einem Szenario niedriger bis hoher Intensität operieren und kämpfen zu können. Sie ist befähigt, multinationale und vernetzte Operationen im streitkräftegemeinsamen Verbund zur Durchsetzung friedenserzwingender Maßnahmen zu planen, vorzubereiten und durchzuführen, um so die Voraussetzungen für Stabilisierungsoperationen zu schaffen. Darüber hinaus ist die Panzerbrigade 21 „LIPPERLAND“ beauftragt, in vollem Umfang turnusgemäß an den laufenden Einsätzen der Bundeswehr bzw. des Heeres im Ausland teilzunehmen.
Derzeit dienen rund 5200 Soldatinnen und Soldaten an vier verschiedenen Standorten in drei Bundesländern in der Panzerbrigade 21 „LIPPERLAND“.
This corrected a lie spread years ago, in which the ministry of defence claimed that the brigades' mission is combined arms warfare ("Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen", literally; combat of joined arms). The new mission statement has in common with other brigade's mission statements that combined arms warfare is merely expected in combination with reinforcements, not by the brigade itself.

This shows the brigade's organization (translated):

staff and signals company
tank battalion 203
mechanised infantry battalion 212
light infantry battalion 1
reconnaissance battalion 7 
armoured engineer battalion 1
supply battalion 7

It's weird that this (tank, mechanised infantry and light infantry battalions in 1:1:1 ratio) is called a Panzerbrigade (tank brigade). More infantry than tank battalions* was rather understood to suit a Panzergrenadierbrigade (mechanised infantry brigade) in the past. The difference between both wasn't only the ratio, but also the attitude and perspective (Panzerbrigade pushing for more tempo). Nevertheless, the designation likely is an outright lie. A SHAPE map of a war zone with this brigade would show the NATO icon for a tank brigade, which is wrong by modern standards. It's even worse in the sister brigade Panzerlehrbrigade 9, which has an additional mechanised infantry battalion for an even less tank-heavy ratio.

No organic battlefield air defences to speak of. The mechanised infantry battalion will have 30 mm guns with a kind of electronic timed shrapnel rounds for limited very short range air defence, and there may be some Stinger ManPADS somewhere, but other than that it's only 7.62 mm machineguns.

Hardly any organic mortars. The light infantry battalion has six 120 mm smoothbore mortars without guided munitions, towed by Mercedes-Benz "Wolf" (a.k.a. G Wagon) 4x4 cars.

No artillery whatsoever. The entire Panzerdivision 1 has a single artillery battalion as divisional troops (Artillerielehrbataillon 325), which has two batteries of PzH2000 and one battery of MLRS (with hardly any munitions available, in part due to the cluster munitions ban). I'm not sure how many PzH2000 these batteries have, but IIRC it's eight (two platoons of four each). These approx. 24 artillery pieces support a full three manoeuvre brigades with a combined ten combat battalions!

My old impression persists; the German army and thus the Bundeswehr as a whole does not have an organization for its brigades (the above is but an example) that's meant to enable combined arms warfare. The neglect of indirect fire support is particularly devastating to the brigade's utility in conventional land warfare.
"Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen" has dwindled to a near-meaningless buzzword.

I didn't mention yet that the sister brigade of the same division, the Panzergrenadierbrigade 41, has not a single Leopard 2. A mechanised infantry brigade with no main battle tank! Context: They did originally not plan for an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) included in a Puma IFV. The whole brigade's anti-tank firepower after converting to Pumas might have been ATGMs used by dismounted infantry!

This is in stark contrast to the Cold War-era efforts to create well-defined structures**, based on experiences and needs. Nowadays  these brigades are merely staffs meant for defence-irrelevant "out of area" small war deployments, with administrative control over a bunch of units that are spread over multiple garrisons (in the above example five battalions and two companies spread over five garrisons).

The reason for this cannot really be the budget. To integrate an additional artillery-themed company into the reconnaissance battalion, an additional (ammunition) supply company to the supply battalion and to add at least a battery with a dozen PzH 2000 would not break the Einzelplan 14 budget. The current Bundeswehr - and thus particularly the Bundeswehr's political leadership of more than the last decade - simply did not insist on brigades as what they were supposed to be: Ready to fight manoeuvre formations capable of combined arms warfare.
Nowadays, every single "brigade" title is fake, a racket. In reality, these are "unit pools for Frankenstein deployment contingents with partial self-administration by a staff unit" and even that would be a lenient description, for those units don't deploy as a whole, ever.

Table of Organizations have little meaning once attrition by combat sets in, but to have seriously messed-up structures even without such attrition is not excusable.

A fashionable slogan of the last couple years was "Vom Einsatz her denken" (~to think from the perspective of the (overseas deployment) mission). This crap slogan comes close to explain this dysfunctional army structure. It's also utterly illegitimate if not unconstitutional. The army should have its thinking guided by two priorities:
(1) Keeping us at peace through deterrence
(2) In case of failure of (1), national (by extension collective) defence

(1) Der Bund stellt Streitkräfte zur Verteidigung auf. Ihre zahlenmäßige Stärke und die Grundzüge ihrer Organisation müssen sich aus dem Haushaltsplan ergeben.

(1) The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defence. Their numerical strength and general organisational structure must be shown in the budget.

It is very, very sad that the national media can scandalise something de facto unimportant as the performance of an assault rifle after consuming several magazines in a few minutes, yet they are never ever reporting that the very structure of the Bundeswehr is utterly unsuitable for its primary constitutional mission: 


*: Counting Panzergrenadiere as infantry, and I don't care that some people would disagree with this. One Panzerbataillon and two Panzergrenadierbataillone was the typical Panzergrenadierbrigade before the army structures went downhill.
**: See "Das Heer 1950 bis 1970", Hammerich/Kollmer/Rink/Schlaffer, 2006


Is Syria in a civil war or under attack?

I'm (occasionally) trying to read some news sources which I expect to disagree with my world views. Recently I wandered into the Russian view on the war in Syria for a change, and saw a interesting claim:

There are ten thousands of foreigners involved in the war in Syria, dominating at least two and more likely four warring factions* - should it be called a "civil war"? The obvious and largely overt meddling of foreign countries in support of some factions adds another heavy dose of foreign participation. It appears the Russian perspective doesn't favour calling it a "civil war", they appear to pretend that Assad still has support by the vast majority of Syrians and foreign influences drive the conflict.

I myself called this war a civil war so far, but the Russian view of Syria under attack by foreigners has a point: The war is at least partially not a war between domestic factions. Syria has indeed turned into a battlefield in which opposing factions (and ideologies) from three or four different continents are colliding in battle.

The Spanish Civil War with its conflict between the extreme right wing (roughly summed up as  "fascists", domestic falangists with direct participation by National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy) and the extreme left wing (roughly summed up as "socialists", domestic socialists with direct support by the Bolshevist/Stalinist Soviet Union) was a historical analogy.

I think it's both correct to call the war a "civil war" and to keep in mind it's in large part fuelled by conflicts between non-Syrians, even more so than the Bosnian War was. To not call it a "civil war" would indeed help to maintain awareness of the foreign influences, so I think that's fine as well.


Finally, because it's so detailed and thus kind of interesting: Wikipedia's current map of the war (click it to see the bigger version):

(c) Wikipedia users NordNordWest, Spesh531 and others

*: For certain: Da'esh and Hezbollah. Likely; Al-Nusra, Kurds. Not counting intervening foreign regular military forces.


Air power and sorties rates

You did most likely notice the seemingly never-ending debate about close air support (CAS) - 'slow mud movers (A-10) or gold plated fast jets?'. I won't cover this in detail or choose a side here, but there's something interesting about it that doesn't seem to get mentioned:

The pro-A-10 argument of persistence over the battlefield and the optimization for slow speeds (resulting in a low cruise speed) push such CAS aircraft into a certain behaviour: It's what originated in the on-demand circling fighter-bomber sand light bombers of 1944, which attempted to meet ground troops' dream of on-demand air support to solve problems they can't solve themselves.They liked this and like this for obvious reasons, but their perspective doesn't show the enormous expense required: You need great many aircraft for this kind of availability.
A CAS aircraft waiting close to the targets for targets of opportunity or a call will self-evidently spend much time of the day waiting. A slow aircraft wills elf-evidently spend much time of the day cruising.
Both of this is detrimental to many sorties per day, no matter how simple the ground crews' job is. Pilots can only fly so many hours per week, even if on drugs, and there's hardly any air force with much more crews than combat planes.

The gold-plated fast jets on CAS missions on the other hand will rarely clock more than three sorties per day either, and the "stealth" variety will quite likely even carry few ground attack munitions per sortie. The larger subset of "multi-role" combat aircraft will likely maintain the ability to switch from CAS to air combat mission during a flight, so they may drop their ground attack mission and go try air combat or even be allocated to something but CAS by higher command altogether.

Fw 190F-2

The historical example of Fw 190F Schlachtflieger and Il-2M Sturmovik units that often flew half a dozen sorties per day (by keeping the distance airfield-targets and the cruise speed in a suitable balance) has few modern representatives. The Su-25 a.k.a. "Frogfoot" is likely the most capable one, with lots of trainer-derived ground attack planes and other moderately effective planes as competition (A-4, AMX and Jaguar are historical examples).
The Israeli Air Force used the approach of maximized sorties/day to make itself felt on the ground during 1967 and 1973 as well. The time for refuelling and loading a flight of Mirage-type ground attack planes was cut down to less than 20 minutes, skipping maintenance checks and ignoring minor technical issues.

It's known from Afghanistan that Su-25s flew about five sorties on regular active days, with peaks of eight sorties on the most intense days.

The debate is usually about slow&low versus fast&high, representing low-tech and high-tech approaches (and it ignores that the supposed slow&low posterchild rarely flies low any more).
I'd rather like to see this discussion to move towards 'many sorties vs. make few sorties count as much as possible'. You will have a hard time modifying a high-tech avionics-defined aircraft for 70 sorties in two weeks. There's simply too much that's bound to exceed the "mean time between failure" in these sorties. Maintenance requirements will keep sorties/day down and the maintenance woes may get worse if you deploy to a "forward" airfield with less well developed facilities.

Public debates are often comparing one aircraft with another, emphasis on "one". This is very much misleading. During the 70's you could have about three F-4F sorties per day in Central Europe, but instead of this you could have bought about four or more F-5E and trained their crews with the same budget. Those planes might have been capable of rather five sorties per day, resulting in a 3 sorties to 12 sorties comparison. Don't pin me down on the exact figures; this example was meant to show the general idea: Never compare a single aircraft with another single aircraft of another type! Compare fleet efficiency!

In regard to CAS I do suppose "sorties per day" in dependence on the distance between airfield and target and in dependence on the mean loiter time is a vastly underappreciated variable.

This is indeed true for considerations of air power in general. You may find the term "fleet efficiency" in many RAND studies, but less so in supposedly professional publications or in dedicated internet forums. One could easily be led towards considering individual aircraft instead of affordable fleet alternatives.
The U.S.Navy almost doubled its achievable sorties rate for naval aviation sometime in the 1990's, almost doubling its naval air power strength. Yet apparently nobody expressed thanks and proposed to cut the quantity of carriers in response, being satisfied with Reagan-era naval air power strength. Hardly anyone had noticed it, so very obscure are sortie rates to public or political discussions.*

I've encountered many people who had a strong belief in air power, often focused on some aircraft or munition type as personification of this belief (many people from the UK seem to be under the spell of the "Brimstone" missile, for example). I've yet to see most of them express an expectation for a certain sorties/day figure or attrition rate; both potentially decisive multipliers for air power's influence on the outcome of a war.

In other words: An air force of 100 perfectly invisible jets capable of firing six 100% lethal silver bullets per day each would not stop much of an army riding in 10,000 Toyota pickups short from overrunning its airfields if not country. Well, unless there's a lot of water in between - which might explain something regarding the British and American attitudes!


*: Flying hours per pilot and year are often obscured as well, even though they're often more indicative of effectiveness than the aircraft type.

P.S.: I know there are sorties rates figure rumours on the internet. I don't cite any other than the Su-25 wartime figure because  the other figures are tricky. Sorties rates depend on version, ground crew, airfield facilities, spare parts availability (especially spare engines and spare radars), distance to target, doctrine, quantity of available air crews per plane, ammunitions expended etc. The rules of thumb are that twin engine planes have lower sortie rate than single engine planes, very new and very old planes have lower ones than mature yet still fit planes, high tech have lower ones than planes with austere avionics. The Gripen and the F-5 are special cases because very simple maintenance was among their design objectives.


It depends on who does it

(...) by Remi Brulin, (..) whose work has been devoted to the “discourse of terrorism” and who has amply documented that the term is a meaningless concept that, from the start, has been used for propagandistic purposes. It’s hard to imagine an incident that more compellingly proves the point than this: “I wanted to cover the body in a black bag [reserved for terrorists]. After I was asked to take care of the body I saw that he was a Jew, and that it was mistake to speak of a terrorist. I immediately notified the police and we switched to a white ZAKA body bag.”

When they thought he was a Palestinian Arab, he was labelled a “terrorist,” and then soon as they realized he was an Israeli Jew, the label was instantly withdrawn for that reason alone, even though the conduct was the same. That’s the manipulative, malleable concept of “terrorism” in a nutshell. As Rudy Giuliani put it in 2007 when asked whether waterboarding was torture: “It depends on who does it.”

It doesn't, but to pretend is a powerful propaganda technique for sure.

Violence called "terrorism" is actually somewhat relevant in Israel. It's still not rivalling the trail of dead left by big tobacco, but clearly more relevant than in Europe or North America where such activities struggle to come close to the annual lethality figures of lightning strikes. So  my usual reservations about errorism aren't fully appropriate in regard to the Levante. Still, the use of the term is inflationary and not particularly helpful in that region either. The association as mentioned in the quote appears to fuel domestic conflicts in Israel, as was predictable because a "them versus us" narrative is bound to not work without domestic troubles in a heterogeneous country which includes many of "them".

I'd advise them against using segregated body bags anyway, for that story has a second very ugly angle.



On the logic of punishment and Putin's decision to intervene in Syria

I think I blogged about this phenomenon years ago already:
In bombing campaigns the more you destroy, the less the enemy has left to lose and the lesser becomes the threat of further destruction while you keep piling up more and more destruction. You can definitely go past some optimum point.

This applies to Russia; the more you punish it for its backyard great power games (such as in the Ukraine), the less it has to lose - and at some point Putin probably decided that there's little else to lose, perceived a huge freedom of action and went into action in Syria.

Well, this or maybe even worse; he may be adding bargaining chips for deals otherwise unrelated to Syria this way!


P.S.:  Compare this to my ideas for keeping Putin in check from August 2014 and May 2014, in which I proposed non-exhausting, durable bargaining chips that weren't built on sinking costs.
P.S. 2 : Nobody has ever accused me of writing too little in a too long text. I wonder why.

"What Just Happened in Syria?"

Michael J Totten

A couple years ago it was politically correct to criticise reluctance of Europeans to invite Turkey into the European Union. Today, Turkey isn't even "Western" enough to fully fit into NATO. This isn't entirely a change since then; the AKP's Turkey simply isn't "Western", but "Mid-Eastern", and this again isn't about Turkey having its own opinion, but about its opinion being in conflict with common Western opinions.

I can't really claim that their behaviour is non-Western, for it's no more hypocritical or brazen than the behaviour of the U.S. or UK. The Turks just happened to choose different sides in a foreign conflict, showing the same quality of meddling and hypocrisy.

Back in 2009 I wrote a blog post relevant to such a case:

I've got a working hypothesis about how allies and befriended nations should agree on a common security policy if they're not in the same region:

The ally/friend IN THE REGION should have a bonus on his opinion.
His security is much more at stake than the security of a distant ally or friend despite the talk about a 'global village'. His expertise on the region is also likely much better.

This would mean that Poland, Romania and the Baltic NATO members would dominate NATO's Eastern frontier (Russia) security policy.

Turkey would dominate NATO's Near/Middle East-related security policy.
I don't think the meddling in Syria is defence policy in any way; it's great power gaming. Yet if it was defence policy because some civil war party there would justifiably be perceived as a threat*, then Turkey should indeed get a bonus and be the most influential alliance member for the formulation of alliance policy in this case.


*: I know the AKP pretends the Kurds in Syria are a terrorist threat to them and particularly many Americans pretend that Da'esh is a threat to them. I don't think either is justified; in fact, I think both is ridiculous. Da'esh is no threat to Westerners who don't wander into their civil war and Kurds insisting on the right to self-determination is not threat to Turkey because legitimate demands are not threats, they're at most in conflict with interests.


Smoking gun emails reveal Blair's 'deal in blood' with George Bush over Iraq war was forged a YEAR before the invasion had even started


... and they wanted to keep this secret till 2022 so nobody but historians would ever pay attention.

The sad thing is, since this was wasn't about defence in any way and not authorized by the UNSC, GWB and his poodle qualified for the Nuremberg trials treatment including hanging, but they never got it and never will.
Instead, only a few months ago I was once again annoyed when someone seriously treated the poodle as a serious person with a voice deserving attention.

I mean no offence to poodles. You chaps are useful and nice by comparison.


edit: The document was apparently published due to a FOIA request, not in the wake of the Clinton/Benghazi investigations.


Strategy talk

You may have noticed a rich variety of articles and speeches complaining the dire state of strategy in Western countries. Strategy of force structure design, regional strategies, warfare strategies, nation-building strategies - hardly anything appears to be safe from criticism or even be safe from criticism that claims it doesn't exist at all.
I've seen plenty such articles, and over time I've grown a resentment towards them, for they appear to follow a dominant pattern: The lack or low quality of strategic thinking is under attack, and the language used is very abstract and very theoretical, seemingly 'academic'. Afterwards, the authors of such articles portray themselves as strategic thinkers.

The one thing they don't appear to do (much) is to do something about the perceived lack of strategic thought themselves. They don't criticise a lack of strategy in regard to a specific challenge and then offer an example that a strategic approach is possible by outlining one.

I think I myself did it (mostly) different; examples are

I am observing a variation of the "very serious people" phenomenon. Comments that add nothing, but excel in style and pretensions are getting attention and recognition. Authors who summarise self-evident ideas from other countries and introduce them in an easily readable book for their domestic market get misunderstood as great thinkers (literature research and pleasant writing is not 'great thinking').
Meanwhile, the lack of actually good strategic ideas - and the dissemination thereof - plagues policy just as does the perpetuation of old errors and the non-exclusion of those who consistently give bad advice.

Maybe a different style of strategic debates could help a lot. Let's fund writing contests for well-defined strategic problems. A thousand bucks for the 1st place, 500 for 2nd place, 250 for 3rd place, honourable mention for 4th to 10th places if there were at least 40 submissions. That's peanuts compared to the importance of the most likely topics.
A jury ought to be non-invested in institutional interests, so a strategy for a maritime problem could score 1st place even without advocating additional budget for the navy or coast guard simply because the jury wouldn't be dominated by navy officers and navy-biased think tankers.
A "popular vote" alternative ranking could exist in parallel, with no prizes due to its vulnerability to manipulation.

This way we would address the lack of strategy, foster strategic thinking and create benchmarks against which to compare official policies.

Meanwhile, those who attempt to assemble 'deep strategic thinking' articles with 100 cryptic words and references per page but no actual applicable proposal would fade away into well-deserved obscurity because hardly anybody would find them convincing or interesting any more.


P.S.: In case you wonder, I had people like Elkus and Seidler in mind.


“I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

When put to her, Malmström acknowledged that a trade deal has never inspired such passionate and widespread opposition. Yet when I asked the trade commissioner how she could continue her persistent promotion of the [TTIP treaty deal] in the face of such massive public opposition, her response came back icy cold: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

Sometimes politicians admit we're not really living in a democracy yet. This is particularly true about the European Union, where the commission is far removed from electoral legitimation and the parliament elections violate the principle of equality of votes' weight.

The separation of powers (between legislative and executive branches of government is rather theoretical as well, and the separation of powers between executive and judicial branches of government has been violated countless times.

The TTIP treaty is a classic case of a political decision where I say we need a plebiscite for this. There's no question about a plebiscite's democratic legitimation as long as you don't mess it up by voter disenfranchisement or are foolish enough to use voting machines.



Raytheon's Pike

Raytheon unveiled its mini-missile "Pike", which s even smaller than the "Spike" that garnered much attention a couple years ago.

Raytheon's Pike (c) Raytheon

Spike had 2.4 kg and 53 mm calibre, Pike has 0.8 kg and 40 mm calibre. This is less weight than even a M72 LAW or an even lighter SARPAC round. Pike's warhead appears to be about as powerful as a 40x46 mm HE round.
Pike's range of 2 km is roughly half of Spike's. Pike needs no dedicated launcher; it can use 40 mm grenade launchers if they accept its length.

At first glance it's a "game changer", and you can find such comments on the internet already.

There's still the comment I made in regard to Spike years ago, though:

It looks like a (weak) silver bullet, but the most pressing problem against competent and well-equipped opposition isn't so much the killing - it's the detection and identification. It's been possible to take out identified opposition at long ranges before - the key problem is that the battlefield seems to be empty as everyone who's really competent is either camouflaged, behind concealment, behind cover or impossible to identify in an ocean of contacts (civilians or decoys).
An opponent learns from experience - and an opponent who faced a great quantity of Pike missiles will quickly learn to avoid their effect by denying this enemy the spotting and identification required for launching a scarce and expensive round.
This is similar to long-range sniping; it mostly suppressed the enemy's visibility - the attrition effect is not that great even on terrains with long lines of sight.

What's the utility of the suppression of the enemy's visibility at longer ranges than possible with rifles? You end up knowing less about the enemy, after all.



Exotic Ancient Weapons VII: Patta

A sword is often said to be an extension of the fighter's arm . It isn't. It's more like a huge thumb enlargement, but we got used to not think about it this way. That's because in Europe blade weapons tend to have grip and blade on the same axis. A modern exception from this pattern is the (blunt) tonfa, a stick popular with German police, for example. Rifles and pistols tend to have grip and barrel non-aligned as well, though especially the early pistols of the 17th century had a barely angled grip.
Many European rapiers - weapons meant almost entirely for a piercing thrust attack - had two finger rings behind the handguard which allowed the fencer to come close to gripping the weapon oblique to the blade.

The patta or pata was an Indian sword type which did not align the grip with the blade. It's got a straight blade, unlike most other "Eastern" blade weapon types:

18th century patta (c) Alicia Cicon Mumford
The weapon is interesting both mechanically and regarding training:

Mechanically it does not allow to use wrist movements, which should reduce its speed and thus power of impact in slashing movements. On the other hand, it allows for a much stronger parry, and it transfers the (not very great) kinetic energy of the moving forearm during a slashing attack.

The negligible role of the wrist in the use of this weapon allows someone with an untrained (weak) or simply wounded or stiff wrist to use this weapon much easier and likely more effectively than a more typical blade weapon. A quickly trainer soldier would typically have been equipped with a shorter and cheaper weapon such as a falchion or cutlass, though.

The Katar is a type of dagger that's similar in principle, albeit without really locking the blade axis to the forearm axis that well.



The EU should do something about Baltic security

The European Union should invest in the road infrastructure between Poland and Lithuania in my opinion. There are but three road connections along the approx. 66 km wide border, one primary road and two lesser ones of which one is an easily blocked route through woodland close to the border of Belarus.

Poland-Lithuania border region

Only offroad-capable vehicles such as modestly-laden (not maximum nominal payload) 8x8 lorries could traverse some other routes along paths otherwise used by agricultural vehicles - and those paths would neither sustain much traffic before being ruined nor be reliable options in thawing weather.

A defence of the Baltic countries - a quick "counter-concentration" to deter aggression as is still NATO doctrine as far as I know or a wartime influx of forces and supplies - would depend on these roads. Their capacity simply isn't satisfactory, particularly if you consider the possible effects of hostile actions.

The European Union could change this with a modest budget, maybe € 100 million. Additional roads could be added and existing roads could be widened or paved. Drainage ditches, ramparts or walls of any kind that would impede driving around craters or wrecks on the road could be avoided at little to no extra costs. It only takes that the road engineers keep in mind the military logistics relevance and requirements.

An improvement of this infrastructure would help the region economically. It could easily be included in the general spending on infrastructure projects within the EU budget and wouldn't even be noticed as a burden throughout the EU. It would still solve about half of the Baltic defence problems and challenges in my opinion.

One could disagree, and point out how two Russian divisions made it into South Ossetia through a single tunnel a few years ago. Isn't even a single road enough?
Well, as I wrote years ago: "A few B-2 bomber sorties could have demolished an entire Russian division on a valley road during the South Ossetia War, for example. And the road as well." Imagine a mere 100 GLONASS- or backup INS-guided bombs or heavy artillery rockets with impact points spaced by 100 m. With point detonation fuses this could ruin an entire division on its administrative march. With delay fuses this could create dozens of craters that would overwhelm the capabilities of organic engineers to sustain mobility. A day or more would be lost until the craters are filled up, circumvented over mat-reinforced ground or bridged - and this could be crucial both in planning and reality. Finally, this kind of damage could be done to a single road again and again every few hours or so - by a single Smerch battery with suitable ammunition.

Meanwhile, Poland could stock up on Leguan bridge segments (or equivalents), mat laying vehicles and mats (example German FSG, but there are several such systems), low light vision-compatible route markers, ready-to-use durable fascines and possibly quick-dry cement and its specific tools.

None of this would be sexy, none of this would excite many vocal fanbois, none of this would be attractive to military top brass, none of this would improve a "defence" politician's career, none of this would appear in a great power's "defence review", none of this would make it into national political debate other than in Lithuania, none of this would excite EU bureaucrats who tend to focus on other regions - but all of this would greatly enhance Russian respect for Western seriousness and preparedness regarding Baltic security ... at the price of maybe a single sexy "Typhoon" fighter-bomber.


P.S.: The road-laying systems are as far as I know mostly of relevance for improvised roads to pontoon bridge and other mil engineering bridges not connected to the civilian road network. I've never seen a system of this kind optimised for circumventing a damaged road section. They appear to be optimised for straight improvised roads only. Maybe military engineers trust their ability to fill up or bridge craters more than I do or here's a possible capability optimisation niche (market niche).

A Smerch rocket and equivalent KAB-250-SE bomb are capable of producing a crater with 5-10 m diameter if the descent angle is fine. Bigger bombs usually produce bigger craters, but dedicated anti-runway bombs could create craters very efficiently.


Russians showing off in Syria

So the Russians are now attacking Syrian civil war parties which oppose the Assad regime - and may spare D'aesh, since they get bombed by Americans and a few others already. An alleged incursion of Russian military aircraft into Turkish airspace gets a lot of critical press coverage in the West, whereas an alleged Israeli military aircraft incursion into Syrian space (supposedly intercepted by Russian fighters) doesn't get nearly as many exasperated reports in the news.

It's the usual biased 'us vs. them' narrative in the media, which supports hypocrisy in Western foreign policy. According to international law, Russian aircraft bombing rebels in Syria with consent of the Syrian government is at least as legitimate and legal as others doing the same to D'aesh in the same country with as far as I know mere toleration by the Syrian government.
Western politicians and military institution leaders cannot possibly believe that their criticism will influence Russian behaviour, and they know for certain no amount of PR will defeat the veto-reinforced Russia in the United Nations Security Council.

So what is this allergic reaction to Russians playing great power games in the same playground sandbox as does the West about? Is it a primitive reflex reaction? Or more?

One possible explanation could be that the smarter ones fear the worst case; the Assad regime prevailing in the Syrian civil war because of Russian support and inconsequential Western meddling.

This would to other tyrants signal that Russia is a valuable ally - and they might even choose the Hama option if they ever get into trouble like Assad junior did. Russia could shield them against the West's reaction, after all.
It would be a spectacular setback for Western great power gameplay.

I do certainly not suggest that success of Western great power gaming is in any substantial way beneficial for the well-being of people in the West, of course. Such great power games are in my opinion mere entertainment for the power elite and a handful people who associate with them.



Kobane today


The city of Kobane after months of fighting.
That's what "winning" against ISIS looks like. 



Team roles and military personnel affairs

The typical Western military fosters roughly five personalities with its training (across branches):

enlisted personnel
non-commissioned officers
senior non-commissioned officers
leadership officers
staff officers.

Only two of these - the two officer types are very important for operational and strategic ideas and plans. The stereotypical staff officer archetype is well-adapted to working in a staff under close supervision of a superior with great specialisation and working diligently, even long hours.
The leadership officer archetype was rather trained to influence subordinates, bear responsibility, act independently and push his subordinates for performance. He was very depending on senior non-commissioned officers in his first command jobs.

These are by design two archetypes, although real officer corps are more heterogeneous, of course. I'm pointing at the fact that the military fosters primarily two types, a greater variety of the outcomes is not the merit of the training.

Now let's look at the as far as I know dominant model for character archetypes in teams: The Belbin roles.

I've looked up a nice summary for you.

All of these archetypes are enriching the team, and an industry which finds its project teams to be dominated by only two or three of these is rightfully concerned about this suboptimal composition. meanwhile, a military with an almost cult-like idolization of co-ordinators (leadership officers) and implementers / monitors (staff officers) end up with such a poor composition by design. More senior non-commissioned officers in a staff doesn't help much either, for especially the "plant" role remains underrepresented.
This is obvious, and why shouldn't it be underrepresented? A military is an organization with dozens fi not hundreds of "how to" books (field manuals) which nobody can memorize, so anybody with a novel thought can be shot down with a (false or actual) reference to one of those quasi-holy books.Even worse; failed experiments that went against such a holy book's advice often cripple a career.

The Belbin model of roles in teamwork originates in business economics, is well-known and no doubt known to many Western military institutions: The Bundeswehr even teaches business economics to many of its officer candidates during their stay at a Bundeswehr university. There hasn't been any exogenous shock that would have forced the Western military bureaucracies to do something about this or other rather hidden 'room for improvement'. Short of defeat in warfare, who could deliver this exogenous influence? A minister of defence who has a medical degree? Rather not.

The Belbin model applies particularly well to project teams - teams working on a challenge or problem that's unusual and not a repetitive activity (which would be covered by process management instead of project management).
Maybe you questioned whether the concerns mentioned above were well-founded, but this is food for thought in light of what we've seen the last 30 years: Any weaknesses that stem from poor team compositions according to the Belbin model would not be visible in repetitive, routine activities (such as most peacetime activities), but particularly much during strategy planning or procurement program management.



Echo chambers

Echo chambers are the dread of good defence policy and military theory progress. People in an echo chamber don't respect and probably don't even get to hear or read conflicting views or evidence, instead all of their intake is from people with similar opinions.

Echo chamber groups avoid the mean cognitive dissonance, but the price is intellectual stagnation and the inability to overcome incorrect or outdated paradigms. Such echo chamber groups rapidly agree on a favoured narrative, and then proceed to laud each other's reciting of kool aid as "thoughtful" or "strategic thinking".

This may sound like the complaint of someone not allowed to join a particular echo chamber group, but I'm really, really glad that (as far as I know) I never joined any such group. Some people appear to be more well-suited for such memberships than others.

The problem with this groups in regard to mil theory advances is obvious; almost all of their output is mere noise of no value, similar to most obligatory master's theses.

The problems caused in regard to defence policy (or "security", military policy) are probably not as obvious: Such echo chambers tend to be stiff and incapable of adapting to changing circumstances sensibly. Changing circumstances are rather exploited as an excuse to bring forward the same old wish lists - or even longer ones. This is somewhat similar to how inflation hysterics keep demanding higher central bank interest rates because hyperinflation is just around the corner ... for decades.
Many politicians in the office of minister of defence (or equivalent) are no experts on defence. They're rather experts in politics, in fostering networks and a political base, and may have had prior experience in heading some bureaucracy (executive office). They may then come under influence of a whole array of echo chambers, some of which were propped up by the arms industry because their reliably monotone message suits their interests. Most echo chambers will readily provide a message the minister of defence wants to hear: "Defence" deserves more prestige and a bigger budget and the MoD should engage in high level foreign policy.

It would be very, very valuable if the politicians recognize the echo chambers as what they are, not as pools of defence thinking excellence. Right now I couldn't name a single minister of defence who ever beyond doubt did so.

Another dream is about a world in which echo chambers were cracked open, and discourse is effective at finding fine answers to important questions. This dream appears to be very outlandish, though.


P.S.: There are echo chambers contra big spending as well: POGO, the "Military reform" gang,  "fighter mafia" and most if not all of the usually completely ineffective pacifist groups qualify (or qualified) as echo chambers as well.