Soldiers at rest

I very well remember certain parts of my own military service. We all developed not only the ability, but also the habit of a super-quick nap whenever the opportunity arose. Two minutes time to sit at a table? Nap. Other guy left the car, went into the building to use the photocopy machine? Nap in the car. At the restroom in a stall? Nap.
That was during the times when there was a lot of stress, mostly when one was being trained, particularly during basic training.

The normal service as the opposite of stressful. Once I messed up my calendar and was on unauthorised leave - and nobody even noticed (my unit was way overstaffed at that time and personnel affairs was a mess).

On other days I simply enjoyed the warmth of the sun and watched the scenery, kind of in a picnic mood. Serving as a soldier means in most jobs and most months to be bored most of the time. Even the supposedly overworked guys made sure they had their extra breaks.

Similarly, even ground combat troops on a mobile warfare campaign on a day with much movement would wait most of that time. Wait for something to happen, wait for orders, wait for moving again. Wait for hot food. Maybe they'd pull security as a picket, but that, too, would be essentially be about waiting for anything to happen. Usually a recall or relief.

Historically, even fully motorized forces aren't advancing all that quickly. 50 km/ day average for several days in a row is fast, 100 km/day average for several days in a row has yet to happen with larger forces. The actual movements may be twice as much as the distance gained, but the lesson is still that a tank's top speed of 70 kph or a lorry's top speed of ~90 kph does simply not translate into hundreds of kilometres advances or even only movements by entire brigades. Supply convoys may do this, but it's unheard of from combined arms formations.

The dominant activities of the personnel of a combined arms brigade on a campaign are thus going to be resting/waiting, sleeping, eating, personal hygiene - whereas actually moving forward in a motor vehicle may take less time than chowing on a typical day.* 

Yet field manuals and writings about military theory or doctrine appear to focus mostly on what would be done while shooting or moving. The resting that may actually be more decisive (think of security efforts, physical exhaustion, officers collapsing after four days for want of sleep) is largely being treated as an affair that NCOs would take care of. As if it's some kind of basic activity of the trade that never makes a difference.

I began to treat it differently this year, for even though you may rest or wait, this doesn't necessarily apply to the opposing forces. Survivability, security and to some degree secrecy (protection against surveillance) during resting and waiting may be more important than the synchronisation of a fix + left hook movement or similar action-focused things.

A force that dissolves during a rest won't be of use when there's an opportunity for action. This goes beyond a call for proper security efforts. It's about paying attention to the phases of relative inactivity as abut as important as the actions. Navies have the "fleet in being" idea. That's the idea that a fleet in a harbour, ready to cruise and offer battle, still has a huge effect on the opposing forces despite its inaction. It forces them to deploy forces as a counter and it restricts their freedom of action because many actions would be too risky in face of that ready-to-hit-you "fleet in being". 
I know of no equivalent term in land warfare theory or field manuals. There's no "brigade in being", the closest thing is a QRF (quick reaction force), but that's rather a fashionable term for "reserves". Reserves were once the centrepiece of land warfare art; they decisions where to keep, when to employ and when to disengage with reserves was most important, and to fix (keep busy) all opposing forces' reserves while still having considerable reserves ready for offensive action was considered THE decisive thing in battles.
I'm under the impression that this withered away during the Cold War, since the very wide frontages of the 25-26 divisions of NATO along the roughly 1,000 km wide Central European front(ier) seemingly allowed for no substantial reserves. Moreover, reserves are fractions of the total force ordered to wait, not the supposedly "busy" forces who are still waiting and resting most of the day. So there's a difference to what I was writing about above.

The recent blog post on the 'ink blot' approach to campaigning in conventional warfare was focused on this issue of entire battalion battlegroups doing nothing, and HOW and WHERE to do nothing. The WHY is about sustainability; neither troops nor material would allow for constant action. The idea was to not simply rest anywhere, but in chosen, specifically suitable places. Preferably with a useful spacing, uninterrupted radio comms, suitable choices of routes for evasive or aggressive marches and most importantly; some degree of protection against long range fires and aggressive small forces. Preferably, the location should be secured against surprise raids with little effort, allowing a rather large share of the troops to rest, restock, maintain and repair instead of trying to protect themselves against terrible surprises.

I understand that many people - including readers - think differently and focus on the "action" part. Yet judging by time, the "action" part is a tiny share of a campaign. Soldiers don't shoot about 99.99% of the time, and don't move about 80-90% of the time during a conventional war campaign.


*: Though depending on the stress level, soldiers may also develop a habit of speed-eating. My record was a full meal worth of 20 minutes in four minutes. Medical doctors would probably not approve.


World War goals - Part II

I'll do part II - about the Second World War - first.

An overemphasis on the great powers, wartime propaganda, post-wartime justifications of victors and generations of time have distorted the public perception of why there was a Second World War, and which countries wanted war. As a consequence, the understanding for how these wars happened and how severe an earlier peace would have been is widely lacking in my opinion.

Thus about WW2:

Here's little to say about Germany - its leadership was crazy and most perceptions of its government's reasons for going to war are correct (safe for Germany never having intended to force other nations to speak German and of course Hitler only meant to go to war with Poland only at first, not launch a huge war right away). The majority of the German population wasn't really in favour of the war until after the surprisingly quick and easy victory over France, though.

Italy's fascists had meant to expand and did so before WW2 (Abbessinia, Albania) already. They had clearly non-Italian possessions even in Europe (Dodekanes, Albania) before 1940. Mussolini's reason to enter the war was to grab French territories, such as Corsica and African territories. Additionally, with France and the UK unable to intervene, Italy would have grabbed additional non-Italian territories (particularly along the Adriatic Coast and in Greece).

The Soviet Union was in Russian empire restoration mode and based on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact it expanded into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Romanian Bessarabia as well as into Karelia (after trying to gulp all of Finland) before it officially joined WW2 by being attacked. It might have attacked Central Europe itself if and once Germany and France had worn each other out in a First World War-style trench war. The Soviet arms build-up since the mid-1930's was the most extreme in all of Europe, dwarfing even the German effort (quantitatively).

Imperial Japan had its expansion plans to provide its industries with classic European colonialism/imperialism methods, subjugating foreign people who happened to live on resource-rich lands.

Now the lesser-known ones:

Hungary did not include all Hungarian majority settlements and wanted to expand to a greater Hungary that included almost all Hungarian areas, at the cost of including many minorities as well. They actually conspired with Germany in regard to the division of Czechoslovakia, and later took a huge territory from Romania.

Bulgaria wanted to expand as well, which was the driving force behind its declaration of war on Greece.

Romania went to war with the Soviet Union in the hope of getting at least Bessarabia back, and maybe even (though to be possible only with German toleration) the territory lost to Hungary.

France and the UK were content with the status quo, since France had taken what it wanted after the previous word war already. Poland meant to maintain its size even though it had no ethnicities-based border in the East. It lost almost exclusively Polish minority regions in comparison 1939/1945.

So WW2 was - particularly in Europe - a near-perfect storm of countries trying to expand for ethnic or ideological reasons. This included small powers as culprits.

I suppose if magic could have turned one or two great power aggressor governments peaceful, there would still have been one or multiple major wars. Germany could not have secured the supply of Romanian oil (in exchange for its protection) without the aggressiveness of the Hungarians and Soviets, and would not have secured oil supply from the Soviet Union (1939-1941) without the Pact that was essentially about a fourth Polish partition.
 _ _ _ _ _
Today we don't have that many countries desiring territorial expansion. Putin is in Russian Empire/Soviet Union territorial restoration mode, though he appears to be content with reasserting influence spheres rather than wanting to annex in every single case. I suppose even Erdogan doesn't plan on expanding an Ottoman Empire back to Vienna's gates; he too is looking mostly to rebuild it as an influence sphere, and primarily southward. I suppose the issue about the Greek islands is and always was nonsense.*
Hungary is leashed by the EU and the Serbs show signs of following Hungary in this regard rather than retrying the Balkan Wars once more.

I suppose this largely sated appetite for expansion (achieved through the need for unity during the Cold War and the unity-enhancing EU and NATO) is the main reason for the prevalence of peace in Europe and complete peace in Western Europe. The one exception - Putin's Russia - is at the same time the only real troublemaker in Europe (save for secessionist movements).


*: Though the Turks did have a huge amphibious fleet, which was of no use in the Black Sea.


Hiding motor vehicles

Years ago I had a chat at a military exhibition with someone I knew from online contacts, and aside from other memorable things about this encounter, he asked me if I was  "tracks" or a "wheels" guy (regarding armoured vehicles). I am neither, and the chat drifted to a different point quickly: I mentioned how irritatingly large (and thus difficult to hide) even rather light military vehicles such as a 2 ton vehicle as a Unimog are.

Unimog 4x4, (c) KIZILSUNGUR, see here

The tires alone are huge already, obviously so in order to reduce the nominal ground pressure and to increase the ground clearance. This is fine for offroad performance, but hiding such a vehicle is about as hard as hiding a vehicle with ten times its payload - or, save for treacherous tracks on the ground, a tank. Even a folding cab as popular during the Second World War U.S. Army or a hydropneumatic suspension wouldn't help much if your tires are this big.

So during the chat he showed an altogether different idea of "hiding" than I had in mind (outdoor): He saw an important threshold at the size of a car garage. The idea is intriguing indeed. An entire reconnaissance platoon or even company could hide in a village's car garages (particularly if the civilians fled) and hostile reconnaissance troops might pass through the village and would report that it's  vacated unless they were very thorough in their reconnaissance and thus very slow. Both workshop and storage halls (including barns) would be easier to use and allow for larger vehicles, but they're fewer and thus more quickly searched. (That's why I didn't think much about indoor hideouts at first.)

I'm not sure about the typical size of car garages in Eastern Europe, but the typical size in Central Europe allows at most a SUV of a Grand Cherokee's size* and is thus de facto limiting the capacity of the vehicle to two personnel + approx. a ton cargo or four to eight personnel with portable equipment. I've repeatedly argued against using such small vehicles. They worsen the ratio between troops and vehicles, thus increasing the share of personnel bound to the job of driver, also needlessly increasing the length and passing time of convoys and finally this makes the handling of troops by the leadership more difficult.
There is an exception; troops which routinely operate in small groups only (such as reconnaissance platoons) merely suffer from the drivers' share problem.

So maybe light reconnaissance or mounted patrol small units might actually make good use of vehicles small enough for ease of hiding. This may particularly apply to defensive reconnaissance. It's also a rather cheap solution and may involve commandeered civilian vehicles with a new matte paintjob (decentrally applied with spray cans).


*: While still able to open doors at both sides.


Bacevich's new book

http://www.amazon.com/Americas-War-Greater-Middle-East/dp/0553393936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461418363&sr=8-1&keywords=bacevichAndrew J. Bacevich published a new book, predictably on his favourite topic.

I'm somewhat of a fan of Mr. Bacevich, buteven I'm not terribly inclined to read all 480 pages (I don't expect to learn much new). Instead, I'd like to recommend this summarizing review by a Mr. Charles Glass at the Intercept:

Charles Glass, The Intercept

I'm neither living in THAT country nor in THAT region, but I still consider myself an interested party. The entire Phony War oon Terror hysteria and also the little bit of actual errrorism affected my country primarily because it's allied with THAT country through the North Atlantic Tretay. The consequences were severe for us, and this was entirely a downside of this alliance, caused by the stupidity of an allied government:
My country was infected with new stages of mass surveillance efforts, the population was divided by an almost entirely made-up conflict along religious fault lines, great expences occured in law enforcement that were wasteful and even some not-so-wasteful ones would not have happened without the conflict. Attention - a most valuable resource in a democracy - was diverted from actually important topics to BS topics again and again, our government got stupid  enough to waste public money, soldiers' lifetimes (and families) as well as the health and lives of soldiers in a country that's about the definition of "irrelevant to Germany".

It's all a higher order consequence of the stupidity and manipulation that Mr. Bacevich has campaigned against for many years.

Mr. Bacevich is a conservative, and it's extremely sad that self-proclaimed conservatives in his country choose clowns, haters and blusterers as their agents over the likes of Mr. Bacevich. We may reach a point where leaving the alliance is the only sane choice left if this stupid behaviour keeps becoming more severe.

Exotic Ancient Weapons VIII: African throwing blades

Most rotating throwing weapons (throwing knifes, throwing daggers, throwing axes such as Tomahawk or Francisca) share the same problem: They are fine for a trained user at a specific distance, and little good at a shorter or longer distance. The correct window may be as small as between eight and nine metres distance. It sure was difficult to get that right in a stressful combat situation, and even more so during an infantry charge.

This small window is a consequence of having but one sharp edge (axes) or point (knives) that does much damage. If you throw at full power from the wrong distance the rotation may be 30° too much or 30° too little and the edge or point doesn't hit, resulting in little more effect than with a thrown wooden stick. 

A possible solution was the South Asian Chakram or Chalikar - a ring with a 360° edge. This introduced a different problem, though - a direct, rather blunt hit would do rather little damage because even though the edge was sharp, the ratio of surface are in contact to momentum wasn't all that impressive. It was nothing like a knife's point or an axehead's edge.

A different solution was pursued in Africa, apparently first in Sudan: Throwing knifes with multiple points and sharp edges, making it much less important by how many degrees the missile rotated before impact. It would usually be nasty unless stopped by a shield or armour.

A collection of African throwing weapons (c) geni, see here
The photo shows it; these throwing weapons were mostly suitable for melee as well, not exactly standardised and (in my opinion) rather not optimised. It's almost as if a scary appearance was an important requirement of their design.

There are many names for these African weapons (or munitions), seemingly varying regionally as much as functionally;
Kulbeda, Pinga, Trombash, Shongo, Shango, Kpinga, Sapa ... by now it's likely clear why for once I didn't write the name into the title of the exotic ancient weapons post!

Of course, the widely known Shuriken of Japanese origin with its four or more points and no handle makes it almost entirely irrelevant how much it rotates before impact. The difference is at most between one point penetrating somewhat deep and multiple points doing more shallow penetrations. Shurikens are also more compact, but they have one severe shortcoming: They have no handle unlike throwing axes, those African throwing weapons and so on. The grip can thus be not as firm (limiting power), and there's no substantial lever, since the hand grips the missile very close to its centre of gravity. There's not necessarily a rotaton involved (and thus no rotation energy) in shuriken throws.
In case you don't quite get what I mean here, look at Atlatl and Woomera, two weapons meant to exploit a long lever for more throwing power (see here or here). The Ancient Mediterranean world used small slings attached to javelins for the same purpose.
_ _ _ _ _

Throwing weapons are among the more confusing historical weapons in my opinion, since their range was typically only 9-45 m depending on design (Plumbata possibly more), and the used had to switch to a melee weapon in a few seconds after the throw in order to be ready for melee in time. The throwing motion also fits poorly into the dense formations fo closed order tactics, which makes the great popularity of javelins in the Roman armies even more confusing, and the issue with range sensitivity makes the supposedly well-documented use of Francisca throwing axes by the migration period Franks (during a charge!) almost unbelievable.
The one exception are peltasts in Ancient Greece, especially when facing a relatively rigid phalanx as target. I just don't understand why they used the small slings attached to javelins instead of using a kind of Atlatl that can double as a battle axe with the other business end.

These African throwing weapons required a great smithing effort required and are thus rather confusing as well. Their shapes were also apparently never optimised into one dominant design. Most throwing axes look alike, most throwing knifes look alike, most javelins look alike (save for the possibly overengineed pila), but the Africans never agreed on one dominant design. They're challenging an otherwise widely observable pattern in military (weapons) history.



Robert Leonhard on "surprise"

"Imagination is a powerful deceiver. Much of what we think about warfare in general and future conflict in particular comes from the imagination. Sometimes, the images that emerge from our minds can be accurate and useful, but sometimes they are totally false. One such image that serves to warp our understanding of war is the fiction that our enemies are ready for battle.
Military units are perpetually unready to fight. Unreadiness is the natural condition of all forces, both friendly and enemy. Combatants in war are almost invariably oriented in the wrong direction, estimating the wrong threat, unsupplied, unrested, in bad terrain, ill informed, physically unfit, morally unprepared or technically dislocated. Our mind's eye, conditioned as it is by our innate fears, fails to perceive this extreme condition of unreadiness, but it is there nonetheless.
Forces in war remain unready for combat for virtually the entire duration of the conflict, attaining a degree of readiness for only the briefest of moments before lapsing into unreadiness again. Even when they are ready, they are prepared only for a narrow band of threats. Any threat that emerges outside of that band will again cause unreadiness. 
If it seems that I have overemphasized this remarkable and lamentable condition of military forces, it is because official doctrine and training within the armed forces does just the opposite: They perpetuate the myth that our enemies are always ready to fight. This is a dangerous and totally inaccurate view of the battlefield, and it is one reason why American tactical doctrine has never learned to capitalize on the principle of surprise. There can be no surprise apart from the condition of unreadiness."

On the one hand, overestimating the opposing force leads to a waste of opportunities, on the other it leads to ill-advised dissatisfaction with one's own security and thus an overemphasis on defensive efforts.

There's a similar problem with survivability. I stress it a lot, but perfect is the enemy of good enough. Every tactic tends to be accused of being risky in one regard or another, which is largely irrelevant if it's still the best option. One has to weigh the risks with the utility attained, and then compare with alternative approaches - particularly the status quo. 
Any improvement is worth it, including improvements over improvements. The existence of a downside in a proposal for improvement is no reason to omit it. 
So even someone who's very much concerned about survivability does well to accept that war  (and life in general) doesn't know absolute safety.

Another similar problem exists regarding moral robustness. Exercises used to (I have hardly any knowledge of more recent ones) go on until the casualty rates were ludicrous. 80% reduced parties would fight on. In reality, they'd have broken and fled after taking 10-40% casualties (according to military history documents). This wrong depiction of the opposing forces leads to an overemphasis on destruction in pitched battle, and an underemphasis on (preparations for) pursuit.
Historically, many if not most battles saw more men slain during pursuit than before the army broke. An example was Napoleon's 1806 campaign against Prussia, in which the double battle of Jena-Auerstedt actually saw much less Prussian losses than the long, determined and merciless pursuit to Eastern Prussia. A general who would have focused on winning the battle alone would have had to fight twice as many or even more battles to achieve the same end.



"The defence ministers of Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany."


I saw this repeatedly for months, and it began to annoy me. No doubt a great many people look at this and assume that 'female ministers of defence = weak military' and 'grim male uniformed minister of defence = tough military', or something similar.

That's primitive, sexist bollocks.

Ministers of defence are the civilian overlords who shall ensure that the armed bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence serves the people. To have an officer as minister of defence is a capital mistake because said officer will feel with his peers and pursue the armed bureaucracies' best interests, not the people's best interests.

Female or not doesn't matter much, what matters is the individuum. A female cousin of mine commands her male spouse like a pet, I sure wouldn't conclude that he would be a better leader of an organisation than her.
Being male doesn't equate relevant military experience or competence, not even in a country that had conscription until a few years ago. Our worst minister of defence in the last four decades was 99% show + 1% substance - and a NCO of the reserves.

So Germany has a civilian, female career politician with no military background or previous interest in military affairs as minister of defence. Does she do a good job? Apparently, she's more in command than at least two of her three male predecessors, using an inner circle of longtime loyalists and external consultants to penetrate the bureaucracy. Does she reform in anyway like I'd like to see it? Hell, no. Nor did any of her male predecessors. Our last minister of defence* with a very good reputation left office almost three decades ago, and I hold huge disagreements with some of even his big decisions.

By comparison, that Russian minister of defence from the photo above is the overlord of a deeply corrupt, deeply inefficient bureaucracy that repeatedly fails to meet military reform or even only procurement objectives, is so badly run that recruiting shortfalls are a nightmare and last but not least he's almost guaranteed to be deeply corrupt himself. He's a "General of the Army", but has apparently no or almost no military experience**, being a civil engineer who became a career politician in 1991 already.
To give a man a rank and a uniform doesn't make him an expert on military affairs.


*: Wörner
**: My search was unable to dermine whether he served as a conscript at least.It's rather likely.

edit August 2016: The nonsense is in its next round.


Belisarius in Italy and a modern "ink blot" land campaign against peer forces

I recommend this text:

Those medium lancers with horsearchery skills did certainly put the early knights to shame. Belisarius essentially conquered Italy against a numerically vastly superior foe by defending fortified places, sallying with his cavalry (including pursuits) and waiting for his enemies to be melted away by plagues.

The closest I found as a symbol picture. Likely they had mail instead of scale armour and thus also a shield.

Reenactment of a contemporary Sassanid cavalryman. Again, add a lance and a shield to approximate Belisarius' non-auxiliary cavalry.
Armored cavalry was always an analogy to modern mounted warfare with armored vehicles,. Alexander the Great's companion cavalry used the inflexible yet robus phalanx line as a stable foundation for cavalry strikes similar to how the 85% infantry divisions + 15% fast divisions Germany army of 1940-1942 was employed: The slow, defensive troops establish and hold a line while the fast, offensive troops execute the decisive offensive manoeuvres.

It's thus worthwhile to look at whether maybe the example of Belisarius offers hints for modern warfare by being a useful analogue.

Defensible (instead of fortified) places of today would primarily be areas which have few relevant routes of approach (valleys, areas with surrounding thick or hilly woodland or with surrounding swamps), but could also be large settlements if there are enough non-armour troops (infantry, AT teams) to defend these places. Cavalry was difficult to sustain in cities (limited stocks of fodder for horses), and armoured troops are in major trouble if supply lines were cut as well.
Back in WW2 fast troops (tank divisions, motorised divisions, mechanised infantry divisions) were able to recover 'behind friendly lines' - behind a re-established frontline provided by infantry divisions. We will likely not have such a robust front line in modern (European) state-vs.-state conflicts for want of a successor to the 85% infantry divisions in an army.

Could future campaigns rest on relatively defensible places, with armoured battlegroups sallying out to cause attrition, to raid, to cause diversions, to force the opposing forces to defend places, and ultimately to enable rather defensive (motorised infantry-centric) forces to assault, occupy and defend additional defensible places?

A graphical depiction of such a campaign wouldn't be about lines, but about ink blots on a map, except that unlike in COIN theory these ink blots are not meant to expand till they cover the entire sheet. Instead, the the acquisition of additional ink blots with particularly useful locations would be the offensive core of the campaign. The raids on hostile supply convoys (or intercept or dispersed supply movements) from these ink blots would lead to a more Go-like campaign style in which cutting off areas without actually establishing uninterrupted lines to do so is at the centre of all offensive efforts.
We already had such a style of campaigning in Europe during the 17th and 18th century, particularly on France's Northeastern border where fortresses were arranged in depth. Supplies for army offensives were stored there, and invading armies would have their own supply convoys be raided by troops sallying out from these fortresses.

fortresses in Northern France in the early 18th century, see also
Campaigns in such an environment were less about battles than about sieges, and in places with less fortresses such as Silesia the armies -always on the tether of supply convoy routes - manoeuvred to cut each other off from the supply route to the nearest well-stocked fortress or fortified city.

We are seeing something similar in the Ukraine, or at least I think I see something similar going on there. The published information about the war in the Donbass is still very sketchy, of course. 
Settlements serve as 'ink blots' of local control, with the surrounding country side largely vacated by armed forces, though major hostile troop movements there would be noticed. Relatively few armoured battalion battlegroups do occasionally sally out, though typically with little consequences unless forces that can establish another 'ink blot' by assaulting, occupying and defending a settlement accompany the sally and turn it into a limited offensive action. 
It's very much unlike the large encirclement moves of Panzerkorps in early European WW2 or the outright mass destruction of tanks in fierce clashes as known from the wars around Israel or from 1991.

Think about the missions of  the armoured forces that mimic Belisarius' cavalry: Clashes with peers happened, but weren't routine. Modern sallies might be more about intercepting supply movements or patrolling in very small teams than anything else, so once again I can refer to my faible for armoured reconnaissance and declare that we likely need more of it. The armoured reconnaissance would be the equivalent of light horse archers (the "Moorish" and likely many of the "Hunnic" auxiliaries of Belisarius, while main battle tanks would be the equivalents of the medium lancers / horse archers of Belisarius' regular Byzantinian caballarii/cavallarii and possibly involved cataphraktoi/clibanarii-type heavy (shock) cavalry. I don't want to fuel the "wheels vs. tracks"debate, but low maintenance and low fuel consumption coupled with enough for onboard for long endurance might become much more prized than a nearly impenetrable glacis.
_ _ _ _ _

A variation of the campaign approach can make use of hiding places instead of defensible places as (temporary) camps. This would require more movement (-> higher fuel and spare parts consumption), but it could be done with much less defensive forces and would thus be particularly useful in the early phase of a conflict, before enough troops were mobilised, prepared and deployed to secure the many 'ink blots'. I wrote about this particularly in 2009-2011, and likened it to light (horse) cavalry at times. The siting of the hiding places would not be as important as the siting of the defensible places, instead the ability to threaten lines of communication (supply routes) even far 'behind' the most forward hostile ground forces would be important. The hiding does of course require that civilians don't give away the locations, which can be largely ensured through various means (disrupting phone networks, civilians fled the area of operations, checkpoints to intercept motor vehicles) for a day. This approach may be particularly suitable to low density of population areas such as much of Eastern Europe or Northeast Asia.
_ _ _ _ _

I'm still at the grand topic of how to replace the function of front lines, as already in 2009-2011. I never found a satisfactory answer to or even only a mention of this challenge in field manuals, and I've read field manuals of ground forces from several countries that should have covered this topic judging by their scope.
It may be that historical analogies from eras which knew no front lines are valuable; they may - within the limits of analogies - provide insights purchased in blood, that may be purchased again in blood if we refuse to pay attention to military history.


edit 2020: More about Belisarius' Bucellarii household cavalry force: deadliestblogpage.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/elite-warriors-of-the-dark-ages-the-bucellarii-of-belisarius/

P.S.: I did not write about using human shields as a land campaign strategy. The actual, real world  conventions would allow such a style of campaigning.


Spartans and Laconophilia


There's a huge affection with the Spartans in popular Western culture, and it's an old thing actually. This admiration and affection is utterly unwarranted.

(yes, I know where this is from)

Let's look at a short description of their society:
The citizens lived mostly in their city, had subjugated several more numerous people, weren't productive themselves but focused on the profession of arms, had their subjects do the work (mostly agricultural work) for them, women were at home doing the homework and rumour has it that the weak or crippled children were effectively euthanised.

Does this remind you of something? Well, it should. For everyone who thinks that this is in any way desirable will would either do so with Hitler's idea of Germans dominating Eastern Europe as 'Lebensraum' or be a hypocrite.

The so-called "Spartans" (Lacedemonians) were essentially protonazis, lacking only the Führerkult; absolutist tyranny. They sure made up for it by having outright slaves (as did the other supposedly civilised ancient Greeks, of course).

Frankly, I'm tired of this.
Whenever "Spartans" appear in fiction, you should side with their opponents, not with the protonazis.



Ground forces and replacements

Back during the Second World War it was a rule of thumb that major battles consumed about a battalion's worth of combat troops a day. Exhausted divisions (or infantry regiments) would be withdrawn from the front and refreshed in a safe area. Sometimes entire divisions were reduced to a skeleton force and not merely refreshed, but rebuilt over months. The armies of WW2 became accustomed to the need to supply fresh bodies and new hardware to the front at appalling rates.

Later on, in 1967 and 1973 and again in 1991, clashes of all-motorised, armor-heavy forces destroyed astonishing quantities of tanks within a few days. Hundreds of tanks were destroyed daily (on average), exceeding even the mass destruction of tanks at Kursk 1943 on many days. This rapid rate of attrition freaked out NATO and presumably also Warsaw Pact army officer corps, but European NATO never really built up appropriate reserves of tanks, likening itself rather to the winning side of these tank destruction events. The U.S.Army instead kept building excess M1 Abrams, keeping thousands of older M1 Abrams models in storage at home.

Fast forward to current affairs:
Brigades and (reinforced) battalion battlegroups are the dominant formation for ground forces employment for conventional warfare. Brigades can be expected to have one or at most two tank battalions, reinforced battalion battlegroups one tank company or battalion. That's anything from about a dozen to about a hundred (main battle) tanks. In other words; one inept or unlucky move and the entire battlegroup may be very weak on tanks if not tankless (tank brigades would rather run out of infantry first).

Obviously, those formations would need to be able (prepared) to switch to a different mode of combat until the critical losses (this may be infantry, artillery or other specialist assets as well) would be replenished. Ideally, this would happen safe from opposing forces and offer time for an exercise to smoothen out the cooperation of old and new troops (to reduce friction) and give the leaders an idea of the capabilities of the new replacements.

There may be some infantry reserves (mostly troops who left the service only recently or who served in a different branch after their infantry service), but there are few if any tank reserves in European armies. The excessive focus on peacetime operation instead of on wartime strength (past the first two weeks) can be blamed for this. Germany, for example, exported most of its Leopard 2 tanks. Almost all of them are in service in NATO allies and thus most exports didn't weaken the alliance, but the German tank forces count their reserve tanks only in the dozens, and to date most of those weren't modernised for about two decades.
The situation isn't much different in the UK, France, Italy and so on. The Western perspective on the 1991 Gulf War is dominant - the experience of marginal losses - rather than the Iraqi perspective of seeing one's forces melting away in mere days.

Military history shows that armies tend to blunder early in a war if they weren't at war for a long time (and "a long time" may be as short as five years - see the U.S.Army's experience in Korea during 1950!). It's thus in my opinion wasteful to focus on peacetime strengths at the expense of wartime strengths. A country tends to overspend on support services if it focuses on a well-rounded peacetime force instead of on wartime (mobilised) force, which naturally has a smaller share of support services because attrition rates of and thus reserves for combat troops would be higher.
In other words; to have a tank battalion and a tank battalion's worth of tank replacements as well as two companies worth of tank crew replacements is much cheaper than to maintain two tank battalions, but in the event of a war it might be almost as useful.

This leads to two points which I covered many times already: Military expenses should be expenses for deterrence (Would potential aggressors agree that the reserves are important?) and the problem of a quick and short aggression (coup de main & fait accompli). 

A quick and short aggression would be smaller and more limited than an all-out yet still "conventional" WW3. You would need relatively few but very high readiness/rapid deployable or in-theatre forces to deter a quick and short aggression. Meanwhile, you would need much more military power to deter a larger war. 
An obvious compromise comes to mind: Set up active high readiness peacetime forces of the size and located as required to deter a quick & short conflict, and add the extra strength required to deter a larger continental conflict in great part with reserves (mobilisation formations and replacements).

As usual, I don't exactly feel that the mainstream does so. I think mainstream military policy is neither doing a good (efficient) job at providing deterrence to a quick & short conflict by having high readiness early defence forces nor does it exploit the cost-savings potential of reserves properly or even only signal to the world that the army could last and remain highly effective for many weeks even in a peer conflict.
There's no trace of this in army doctrines as far as I know (and that's more than I should be able to know). Field manuals simply have no chapter on "how to conserve strength while avoiding defeat". There are chapters on delaying actions, but only rudimentary ones that usually fit better to 1942 than to 2016.

Mainstream / establishment military policies rather seem to serve the bureaucracy itself: Strength on paper gets neglected, while the active force with its very real job for officers gets all the attention. You cannot derive much prestige from reserves either - or else everyone would rate the Swiss militia army much higher than the German army.
This is again one of the topics where I'm missing the political master's intervention in favour of a more reasonable, nation-serving policy and less bureaucratic self-service.



Thinking on military affairs and going nuts part-time

I have observed that many of those who became more or less prolific writers on military affairs (other than hardware topics) and dared to oppose the mainstream or to call for more than merely cosmetic reforms have sooner or later exhibited 'weird' behaviour.

Lind, for example, (a "3GW" guy) is known to sometimes write as if he was living in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Someone else (whom I don't want to mention, but you might recognize him by his initials "C.M.") has gone all-out pro-Trump, 9/11 truther et cetera. Another one wrote weird things about cobalt bombs. Poole got obsessed about ninjas. I prefer to not mention those who seemingly went all-out crazy first and only then began writing about military art or reform. In Germany, Uhle-Wettler wrote great books in the 60's and early 80's, but being a 150% anti-communist since the 1950's, he turned out to not keep a healthy distance to neonazi publications after his retirement. Middelhoff was a fantastic author in the 50's, but produced a scandal in the late 60's when he was essentially the only general ever fired in the Federal Republic of Germany for (kind of) opposing his political master, the later Chancellor Schröder in an unethical way. There are many more examples (though also many about whom I don't know anything crazy). By my estimate about half of those who oppose the mainstream thinking with passionate proposition of reforms exhibit at least a little bit crazy sooner or later.

There may be some shared psychological trait that is both promoting outside the box thinking AND crazy thinking. Maybe it's a lacking desire to conform.

This suggests that whenever you read about non-mainstream military theory or about serious (non-think tank style) military reform proposals, you better watch out for crazy, for it's a coin toss whether there's crazy attached or not.
And yes, I cannot self-diagnose. Feel free to watch out for crazy on this blog as well.



Link drop April 2016

These two links kind of belong together:

see pages 42 and 47


"I asked the Saudi ambassador to the UN why he supports democracy in Syria but not in Saudi Arabia"

I was so very much not surprised. Many people enjoy getting angry about imaginary problems

My old blog post about gun drilling is still one of the most-read ones because it was linked in an apparently very busy South Korean forum

"Precision and Purpose Airpower in the Libyan Civil War"  Edited by Karl P. Mueller

"Xi orders breakthrough in military theory"
It never came to my mind that it's as easy as ordering a pizza! Xi Jinping must be a genius.



It's the training, stupid!

(no April's fools joke included)

Back in the late 1930's the Royal Air Force's Fighter Command deemed it too risky to train its pilots in combat larger than 1 vs. 1, due to the risk of collision accidents. Its training accident rate was low, but the German Luftwaffe with its much less experienced senior pilots trained in battles of 4 vs. 4, or even squadron against squadron. It developed there and over Spain tactics for small units of fighters, as opposed to mere aerobatics for individual fighters. This made the Luftwaffe's fighter force a formidable threat to the Royal Air Force in 1940 even though its senior personnel had much less flying experience (there was no Luftwaffe before 1935, and no covert Luftwaffe before 1933).
Meanwhile, the Italians apparently focused more on individual aerobatics than any other air force (save for maybe the Japanese), and as a result badly neglected to push for higher practical and top speeds of its fighters.

The M1 Abrams main battle tank introduced in the early 1980's was technologically well ahead of its predecessor M60 Patton, but when new the crews still had to learn how to make use of its strengths. During the early exercises M1 Abrams-equipped units were actually less effective than M60 Patton-equipped ones. This is inconceivable to laymen, but actually a very common outcome and one of the reasons why hoping for "wonder weapons" is often foolish.

Back in WW2 it was considered best to train soldiers into infantrymen for six months, and pilots into fighter pilots with 400 flying hours. Due to urgent demand of forces in contact with the enemy many soldiers were sent to serve as infantrymen after six weeks of infantry training and many pilots were sent to serve as fighter pilots after about a hundred flying hours on a fighter. This contributed greatly to excessive casualty rates among the green infantrymen and rookie pilots. Less than ten per cent of fighter pilots scored more than half of the kills in the air, and it was even more extreme in the German and Japanese air forces where experienced pilots were never withdrawn (for good)  to serve as trainers till the end of the war. The lopsided kill results were so extreme because most rookie pilots lost their plane on their first four contacts with the enemy, and all those inexperienced hostile pilots who weren't able to avoid  getting shot down provided a large choice of easy targets to experienced pilots.

Infantry tended to accumulate the most losses in armies historically, with very few exceptions (steppe warfare with almost nothing but cavalry, occupation armies). Good training - not only long training - is pivotal to the infantryman's survivability. The German army of WW2 trained its soon-to-be infantrymen harshly, and even more so from 1942 onwards because of the harshness of the Eastern Front. A short-term result was a horrible accident rate. A newly set-up or refreshing infantry company would typically suffer one or two soldiers killed or permanently disabled during training until sent to the front (again). This looks horrible, but the life-saving effect on the front was much greater than a 1-2% mortality during training. The German army considered its infantry as qualitatively superior until about 1944, in great part due to superior (relative to opponents, not relative to what would have been possible!) training.

There are some lessons from this*, especially when you look at it from the background that there were short (approx. two years) but intense arms races prior to both World Wars:

Lesson #1
Do not expect a relevant improvement of combat capability from a very new weapon system at a critical time. Consider recently re-equipped units as in training and not combat-ready, and keep enough combat-ready forces available at any time.

Lesson #2
Be prepared to switch to more expensive (and especially more risky) training when you expect a major peer war in the near term with a high probability. Sweat and blood in training may save much, much more blood in battle.

Lesson #3
Devise your training and force build-up plan such that enough time (and budget!) is given for training of combat troops. The intensity of training during a pre-war arms race is likely not sustainable during peacetime in general, whereas the advisable long duration of training may not be sustainable during an arms race or war.

Lesson #4 (drawing from lessons #2 and #3)
Armed services should be fully competent at three modes of operation: Peacetime routine, accelerated expansion in expectation of a war in the near term and wartime mode.
The legal framework (red tape, what's permissible, acceptable risks et cetera) and training regime need to know these three modes - with three different sets of regulations/manuals**. The planners need to have plans for all three modes, with transitions between the modes happening at unpredictable times.


*: I used anecdotes and didn't bother to look up the sources again, but you can find similar historical stories in many places and many times.
**: + a manual to point out the differences.