Summary: Enhanced deterrence and defence for Baltic security


(2) A base relocation of Polish land forces; more close to Warsaw, mostly east of Vistula, minimum 100 km distance from Kaliningrad Oblast

(3) A Military subsidy program by wealthy NATO countries to assist all three Baltic countries in equipping, paying and training their land forces including artillery, possibly tank battalions and substantial air defences. Much more reservists in Lithuania and Latvia (possible without conscription if there is enough money to pay a fair price for manpower in training). Essentially, they should together turn into something like Israel or Switzerland; disproportionally armed (at least regarding land power).

(4) A Polish land forces improvement program at the expense of the (largely useless) Polish air force and the (utterly useless) Polish navy

(5) The German Luftwaffe should redeploy its area air defence units and an additional Typhoon wing to Eastern Germany and ensure their high readiness

(6) The German Heer should shape up, shake off complacency and turn into a force that can deploy multiple combat-ready combined arms brigades to the area of Warsaw on road in very few days, including pontoon bridging engineers. The necessary expenses can be financed by raiding the useless navy's budget and cutting some other nonsense.

(7) The Czech army should ensure that at least one very high readiness combined arms brigade is available at any time

(8) The French Armée de l'air should train to deploy 80% of its Rafales (including the naval ones) and its SAMP/T batteries to East Germany in a day, with munitions and ground crews

(9) The French Armée de terre should be ready to deploy two all-wheeled brigades and pontoon bridging engineers to the area of Warsaw in very few days

(10) Establishment of NATO land forces training centre in SW Poland, with at all times 3-4 rotating NATO land manoeuvre brigades present
(11) Prepositioning of NATO standard munitions in Poland to ease supply and deployment challenges
(12) Preparation of additional airbases in East Germany and Czech Republic, possibly also addition of hardened (unoccupied) aircraft shelters on commercial airports
(13) The U.S.Army should change all of its currently in Germany based brigades into Armored Brigade Combat Teams with enough tank transporters. Currently here are the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a Stryker (medium) Brigade Combat Team, instead. Both are much more flawed than Armored Brigade Combat teams are, and thus of little use in Europe. The U.S.Army should leave Central Europe once (10) is in full swing, especially since (3) is much, much more cost-efficient than forward-basing on a different continent. A few air-deployable brigades with 155 mm L/52 SPGs, powerful anti-MBT equipment and conventional warfare training based on the Eastern Coast would be a much more appropriate early intervention land forces contribution in the long term.*

(14) The Italian Aeronautica Militare should be prepared to deploy Typhoon units with munitions and ground crews to Hungary in very few days, protected by SAMP/T-equipped air defence units.

(15) Enlarged munition stocks of all relevant powers; More than ten high end air combat missiles per combat aircraft. More than 4,000 quality shells per artillery piece. More than 200 HE (or HESH) shells per MBT. Large quantities of surface-to-air missiles.

(16) Generally more robust (very) short range air defences and anti tank guided missile types available in quantity. The fashionable IR guidance is not reliable enough in face of countermeasures.

Still possible without endangering any ally:

(a) Huge military spending cuts in many NATO member countries, especially the United States, which have insane spending levels beyond what they can afford with their domestic politics.

(b) Huge cuts in naval spending and strength of European NATO / EU countries. There's hardly any threat in the Mediterranean, naval warfare in the Baltic Sea would be marginal and the Russian Northern fleet will in the long term only be capable in regard to SSBN and SSN patrols.
SSBNs should be left alone even in the event of war; never threaten the enemy's second strike capability, lest you provoke a first strike! 

(c) Substantial cuts in air power strength in Europe. Transport aircraft are super expensive and of little use; the slowness isn't about speed of movement, but about readiness. Much of Europe's air power is in a competence maintenance mode, using obsolete combat aircraft. Typhoons, Rafales, Gripens and Tornado ECR are relevant. Hardly anything can still be expected from F-16A/Bs, Mirage 2000, AMX and F/A-18A/Bs against Russian air defences and fighters if Russia's leadership actually gained enough confidence in its forces to dare an aggression.

(d) No return to conscription

(e) Bulk of land forces can still be limited to modest readiness to deploy to Poland. Spanish brigades could arrive after 2-4 weeks, for example. The Bulk of European land power would not need to be  available for defence in the first week; it would instead make aggression pointless in the longer run (overmatch of total European forces over Russia+Belarus).

(f) The bulk of the land forces in European NATO / the EU can even shrink, for European NATO and EU outnumber the Russian military almost 2:1 without any North American help. In several armies a combination of fewer better quality combined arms brigades with infantry-qualified reserves would be much more useful than the present quantity of low quality brigades and regiments.

Helpful, but doubtful:

(I) A plan for Baltic defence that threatens the Russian position in the Caucasus region in return to a Russian forces concentration near the Baltics, deterring the deployment of Southern Military District forces to the Western Military District. This requires Turkish political will.

(II) A Russia that's more busy with East Asian challenges; this could be provoked with something as simple as a blockbuster movie about a Chinese invasion of Siberia that pushes the idea that more Russian land power needs to be in the Far East. Follow up with pushing the narrative in social media.

related earlier posts (those not linked to above):


P.S.: That link list looks as if  I wasn't all that lazy after all. 

*: Keep in mind the U.S. would practically need to deploy at least one airborne brigade and one (USMC?) combat aircraft wing equivalent to Iceland to secure it whenever Russia seems to prepare a move against any NATO member. This reduces what air power and land power can be airlifted to Central and Eastern Europe.

later P.S.: I didn't write much about the UK here because I expect their withdrawal from Germany to go on till 2019 as planned, considering the political climate (Brexit). The continent-based unit most valuable for the security effort is likely the 23rd Amphibious Engineer Squadron (with its 38 M3 Amphibious Rigs), as described before. I consider deployment from the island to the continent as easily disrupted and thus too slow for first week intervention in force. The UK's land forces are thus rather comparable to the Spanish ones in their role; relevant for the force balance after the first two weeks (and additionally relevant for Norway).


Out of the box answers and an alternative

Out of the box answers appear to dominate Western foreign policies in conflicts:
- blocking already agreed-upon arms deals
- freezing financial assets
- economic sanctions
- cruise missile diplomacy
- tripwire forces
- military (training) cooperation
- training of indigenous militia fighters as proxies
- invasion, regime overthrow, Western-style constitution, puppet government
- military and other subsidies
- arms sales to proxies
- bullying with naval patrols right in their front yard
- "freedom of navigation" stunts/provocations
- forward basing of forces
- UN sanctions against those who lack a veto power patron

One more bad move of Russia and there's a very high probability that Western politicians will not resist the temptation of certain such standard repertoire items any more. A permanent basing of (additional) U.S. troops in Eastern Europe (likely Poland, but initially as interim bolstered numbers in Germany) is rather likely after the U.S.elections, or rather after the coronation inauguration.

- - - - -

Here's an alternative approach to achieve the same effect of having forward-based forces, and no, it's not part of the standard repertoire:

NATO would create a training base in the Czech Republic or in Southwest Poland, just east of the Oder river. The base would  have plenty exercise areas (woodland, villages, agricultural areas), but mere storehouses instead of barracks. Whatever troops would train there would live in the field. Depots in the area would store several thousand tons of diesel fuel, but more importantly they would store large quantities of NATO standard munitions (155 mm HE, 155 mm smoke, 7.62 mm, 5.56 mm, 120 mm mortar HE, 120 mm mortar SMK, 81.4 mm mortar HE, 81.4 mm SMK, 81.4 mm ILLUM, 40 mm LV HE or HEDP).
A supply of 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm blanks would be financed through NATO and be available to exercising brigades regardless of nationality (serving as an incentive to afford the travel in exchange for kind of free exercise ammo).
There would always be 3-4 NATO brigades (and at times one non-NATO brigade) on several weeks long exercises here, and they wouldn't even need to carry most of their warload of ammunition to this place in order to be ready for defence within hours from there.
The exercises would differ between rotations, but generally advance from scripted platoon and company tests to partially scripted battalion-level exercises and finally almost free play brigade(s) vs. brigade(s) mock battles.

- - - - -

This way there would always be 3-4 NATO cohesive (national) land warfare brigades at near-peak training state (the brigades would no doubt be prepared for such a rotation!) within a few hundred kilometres of the Polish-Lithuanian border without any permanent forward basing of troops and without any country being much out of proportion burdened by forward-deploying its own troops. Poland and the Baltics (well, at least Lithuania) would be reassured by the alliance instead of needing to apply for the vacant job as lap dog.

Russia, having many exercises of its own, could and would complain with a visibly high degree of hypocrisy only.

Of course, this is sooo much more complicated than to simply agree to some roadshow exercises or ordering some forward basing of a brigade or two.


P.S.: In case you wondered; yes, the NTC in 1980-2003 style and the CMTC were an inspiration for this, though I would prefer a terrain relevant for Poland/Baltics and a size for 3-4 brigades + nearby stockpile area. The extra training gear that could be afforded for such a central training centre (laser duel simulation, indirect fire effects simulation based on GPS receivers and radios) could go far beyond what most of the armies of Europe typically afford.
The size and capacity of the NATO training area should beat least 3x the size and capacity of CMTC for brigade-on-brigade exercises, but preferably capacity and training area should suffice for four brigades exercising at the same time (3vs1, 2vs2, 2vs1 + 1 reserve).



In nine years I marked a mere 20 posts with the "logistics" tab.

Unlike "Think Defence", who has a distressing obsession with mexeflotes and containers, I have no such logistics obsession. Yet logistics are very, very central to warfare. I tried - really, really tried - to write some more about logistics for years, but simply didn't come up with any fine ideas.
I even read (mostly terribly disappointing) books about logistics, and most of my insights from those can be summarised as

"Maybe there's really not much good stuff that can be written about logistics!"
"Those helicopter logistics aren't going to work out in a European war!"

This year I didn't try to push me to write about logistics, but I did write about them - specifically about how to move in particular forces of the Heer to Northeast Poland if not Lithuania.

This is not a big concern if one assumes weeks of early warning, but collective deterrence would benefit greatly off an ability to intervene in time against a strategic surprise invasion, and I don't see this capability.
Debates about assault rifles, tanks, aircraft upgrades, barracks closures, military head counts and even budgeting pale in comparison to the importance of the ability to deploy meaningful military force to the Polish-Lithuanian border within days (in my opinion).

Some of my articles relevant to modern-day European (continental) military logistics were



[Blog] Visitors' Operating systems


This is a "last month" statistic.
Android, iPhone, iPad, Maemo, Android 6.0.1 - that's about 23% mobile visitors, and then there are the mobile phones and tablet PCs that are hidden somewhere in the "Windows" category.

I was only reminded of the existence of a mobile phone layout of this blog when the regular version went down recently and the mobile version didn't (different template). I guess I need to pay more attention to whether and how well this blog can be read on a mobile phone!



Fragmentation ballistics and protection

There are two main approaches to fragmentation of high explosive munitions:
(1) You encase the explosive with steel and let the explosion blow apart this simple casing into many fragments (= the old approach)
(2) You encase the explosive with pre-defined fragments (often steel balls) of mostly identical size (= becoming more and more typical)

An old style externally serrated hand grenade;
too few and too large fragments (inefficient).
A hybrid approach is to use a steel casing, but create a serrated surface (inside better than outside) to create predetermined breaking points, which makes the fragmentation somewhat controllable.

This hybrid is the most typical one, but even with this approach you'll have very few very large and powerful fragments and a huge quantity of tiny fragments that become inefficient after a few metres of flight. "Soldat und Technik" issue V/1996 had an article which mentioned a typical example for a classic HE frag shell fragmentation:

0.1-1.0 g: 77% of fragments
1.0-10.0 g: 21% of fragments
10.0 -1 40.0 g: 1% of fragments.

Another example for WW2 shells with antiquated weight measurements is here.

fragments (and their speed) from German WW2 88 mm Flak (source)

Fragments from non-serrated steel shell (WW2) source

The steel quality influences the fragment sizes; ductile steel for bigger, brittle steel for smaller fragments.

Protection against this kind of fragmentation is a lottery. Even protected vehicles may be penetrated by the very few most powerful fragments, but very lightweight "flak vests" (~ 3 kg) protect against the vast majority of fragments (and weaken most of the others in their effect).
So this makes on the one hand very lightweight (low area density) protection meaningful and on the other hand it makes it very hard to ensure survival at short distances.
A ballistic helmet for example may stop almost all fragments of a HE shell, but at the same time it would stand no chance against the few big fragments without being much too heavy.

Modern defensive hand grenade;
many same-sized small predefined fragments
The predefined fragments are very different.  Their power varies mostly by distance from the explosion*, the explosion force itself, angles (from explosion and of impact) as well as impact velocity (which is subtracted from rearward-going fragments, for example).
The fragments are mostly identical to each other (the fuse also turns into fragments).

Protection against this is very tricky. You may still use lightweight protection, but it would only matter at all at considerable distances from the explosion, where the probability of being hit by a fragment is much reduced anyway. On the other hand, the fragments may be designed to penetrate even quite heavy protection (equal approx. to a 7.62 long rifle cartridge AP bullet) at useful distances from the explosion.
Matters are being made more complicated by different fragment sizes being used in different munitions. You can expect much bigger, more powerful predefined fragments in an artillery shell than in a hand grenade since the desired lethal radius is much greater and they're also meant to do damage against equipment.

The result of the difference between old and new fragmentation concepts is that the fragmentation protection criteria and concepts should be very different depending on what threat you face.
As of now, old style (at most internally serrated) HE munitions and bomblets with weak fragments can be expected from the Russian army. This means that the established concepts - particularly the lightweight fragmentation protection - still make sense, and will continue to do so for at least about a decade.
There is little reason to expect a timely reaction to such a creeping change. We will likely see huge inventories of legacy vehicles and vests that follow badly outdated protection concepts (or are simply overweight) in the 2030's.

2009-05 Body armour
2009-11 Body armour (update)
2011-01 Another shot at the historical failure of fragmentation protection vest procurement


*: This is always an important factor. The STANAG standard takes into account the distance from the explosion for this reason. 

P.S: So far the armed bureaucracies pride themselves in "more is better". Better materials lead to better protection instead of lighter weight. Ballistic helmets used to have 1-1.1 mm steel; nowadays they're capable of stopping bullets of powerful handguns or even some assault rifles. I'm in favour of modesty and self discipline and would literally prefer a "90%" solution. This, of course, only works as long as the bottom 90% of fragments are weaker than the top 10%. A lightweight helmet of today would be almost useless against 100+ mm calibre HE shells with preformed fragments while being just fine against weaker threats, including ~3/4 of the fragments of those 105-155 mm projectiles that lack preformed fragments. It takes self-discipline to limit protection instead of making helmets as heavy as can be excused.

Now a bit more complicated: This is about diminishing returns; some rewards are easily gained, but at some point it's better to stop. A hypothetical warhead with all fragments being identical would not create clearly diminishing returns from increasing fragmentation protection against explosions at a set distance greater than the lethal blast radius. So in such a hypothetical simplified case there would be no sensible cut-off point where to stop adding protection other than the frag protection level required to survive fragments just outside of the lethal blast radius.


Chest rig madness

Disclaimer: This is NOT meant as a tacticool fanboi hardware post. This is rather about a meta theme that I've touched on repeatedly already; modesty and self-discipline. This is also a re-write of a too short six year old blog post.

From the late blackpowder era to the early Cold War the infantryman's load was primarily on his waist and in his hands during combat, with additional rucksack (or other container) on the shoulders at times (not during all marching).

The waist position makes a  lot of sense for placing loads. Unlike extremities, the waist doesn't move forward and backward much, so you do not need to accelerate it with its mass so much. Sports sciences have found that very good marathon runners tend to have very small and light calves. This is energy efficient.
Kalenjin have particularly thin ankles and calves, a body build common to Nilotic tribes who grow up near the equator. Epstein says this is particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your center of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.
If you take a runner and put 8 pounds of weight around his waist, he can still run reasonably well. But if you put those same 8 pounds in the form of two 4-pound weights around his ankles, that will take much more energy and slow him down considerably.

More importantly, nothing that's being carried by the waist is a burden to the back torso muscles or even neck or arm muscles. This greatly improves energy efficiency.

Photographic evidence of WW2 shows that infantrymen rarely had much load in the front position on the waist. There was an occasional egg hand grenade on or in chest pockets and sometimes a bandoleer for cross-loading ammunition, but very rarely anything big in the belly position. Big pouches in the left front and right front are seen often, but those pouches gave way for the body when the soldier went prone to minimise his silhouette as a target.

I once read that some snipers - notably Simo Häyhä - preferred iron sights for sniping at short ranges because this allowed them to minimise their silhouette as a target*. This is a very distant idea for today's infantrymen with their straight buttstock** + raised optics rifles, particularly with stacked optics as on the G36.

So why would anyone intentionally add about 10 cm to his silhouette height by adding chest pouches  to the belly position? This maybe even in addition to 2-3 cm thickness of hard body armour inserts. That may make sense in urban combat, and nowhere else.

All those belly position pouches are near-suicidal in my opinion. They do not only increase the height in prone position, but also discourage going into the prone position (or to crawl) in the first place.***

But "modern" chest rigs do not stop at this. It's standard behaviour to burden the soldier to his limit, not to some optimum level, after all. This does not only apply to mass. It's also about surfaces and volumes. There is a chest area? Let's cover it with big pouches!
The result is not only a large silhouette, but this also burdens the torso muscles. A chest rig may do so as well to some degree or completely (resting on suspenders).

The result is that you can actually carry LESS because you tire out more quickly per kg carried.

WW2 infantry was able to sprint from cover to cover, and still had a remaining life expectation that makes one wonder why they didn't surrender or desert right away. To stay in front line infantry service was either suicide or self-mutilation. Most likely it was delusional.
Yet those infantrymen were able to sprint from cover to cover. Today's infantrymen cannot do so with their full combat equipment. The WW2 infantrymen were also able to use the smallest depressions of the terrain as cover - today's infantrymen couldn't. Their smallest silhouette is comparable to the silhouette of those extremely short-lived WW2 infantrymen who were careless enough to always keep their head up when prone.

As hinted before (twice), this is not about some fancy gear. This is about modesty and self-discipline. I think modern armies lack the respect for old lessons learned, modesty and self-discipline to get this right. It doesn't take a genius to discover this; troops in laser-based or other exercises recognise this every day. Yet somehow the bureaucracies cannot resist the temptation to burden the infantryman to the limit not only in regard to mass, but also area and volume. In fact, I think they went past the limit of practicality, but didn't get the bloody nose to recognise this yet.
Similar patterns are to be expected in other areas of armed bureaucracies.

earlier article: 2010-09 Chest rigs


*: Maybe you remember how in basic training the trainers stepped on your heels (and later you did to others) of recruits in prone position to ingrain that heels need be down to minimise silhouettes in prone position?
**: This allows the recoil impulse to go straight into the shoulder without major muzzle climb tendency.  The drawback is that the sights need to be raised far above the barrel for ergonomic reasons. This makes sense mostly for fully automatic fire at 50-150 m. I knew the 7.62x51 mm G3 rifle and considered its climb tendency on full auto as unproblematic at 30 m (I was no big guy at all at the time). You simply had to aim low, then you would place 3-4 hits on a torso-sized target. I cannot quite understand the modern preference for the straight buttstock rifle designs.
***: I sure remember that my pants' belt knuckle behind the load-bearing belt buckle was a painful-enough combo to often inhibit me in this regard.

P.S.: Now my recommendations, just in case anyone is interested: A wide, padded belt with a fragmentation protection insert in the front area with some fixed (saving fabric weight) and a few modular pouches + a light fragmentation protection vest (STANAG 2920 F2, pretty much a shortened version of the flak vest that I had in the 90's but without any integral pouches and with even better ballistic textile layers to cut down its 2.5-3.2 kg weight even more). Add a non-combat rucksack of medium volume. A chest rig with grenade and magazine pouches on the chest is acceptable only as an option for urban combat.


The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: New Yorkers React to the Manhattan Bombing




Blog technical issues

This blog's non-mobile version wasn't online for at least the last few minutes. 
http://verteidigung-und-freiheit.blogspot.com/ was unaffected.
I have no idea what happened, and nothing helped though everything pointed at a corrupted template.
The blog miraculously re-appeared without the template changes I made when trying to revive it. I suppose blogger/blogspot had issues and used a backup to solve them.




I'm coming back to this graphic
once again. It shows (with the larger green circle) the approximate rumoured range of Iskander precision-guided ballistic missiles launched from the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast (rumoured ~499 km).

A closer look at the geography shows that two of three major rivers that are between Western European allies' land forces and Lithuania (Vistula and Oder, not the more Western Elbe) are in range. The Oder is just barely in its rumoured range.

9M723 Iskander (SS-26 Stone) has enough claimed accuracy (CEP of few metres) to be capable of hitting a bridge WHERE you tell it to hit, not just hitting the bridge at all. The cruise missile that can be launched from the same system has most likely the same range, and as a cruise missile it could approach a bridge horizontally, to penetrate and blow up from the inside the abutment.*

Successful strikes against the railroad bridges would no doubt disrupt rail traffic for weeks. Successful strikes against the road bridges on the other hand could be compensated with military engineers, maybe even within a day. More about that later. First, I'd also like to add that there are railroad and road connections between Slovakia and Poland that circumvent the Oder, but their capacity is lesser, using them would be a great detour for Western forces, the terrain is mountainous and might be troublesome for some vehicles (I suppose tank transporters would have trouble, at least in icy conditions).

So how could military engineers (Pioniere) compensate for destroyed bridges? Grid-style steel bridges are rather unlikely to be erected within days, but pontoon bridges can be built real quick. There are certain limitations, though.
_ _ _ _ _

600 German and British engineers exercised such pontoon bridge-building this summer on the Vistula as part of the Anakonda 2016 exercise, with both armies using M3 Amphibian rig vehicles and (un)folding pontoons to quickly create a 350 m wide pontoon bridge under near-ideal conditions.
Nominally, they would need 8 vehicles per 100 m bridging, but they needed 30 for 350 m this time, slightly more per metre.

The pontoon bridge was created (after due preparations) within 34 minutes. An engineer tank tested the bridge's stability, then it was cleared with a capacity of 250 vehicles per hour. That's one fourth of a brigade per hour, minimum four hours per brigade (there need to be spacings between units to avoid bunching up, since bunching up attracts fires and provokes traffic jams).

Now about the near-ideal conditions:
- very shallow water
- slow stream (2 m/s) that required no anchoring of the amphibian vehicles
- plenty time for preparation
- units knew in advance of the exercise and were able to ensure high vehicle and personnel readiness 
- no hostile actions
- no river flood (really big ones happened in 2010 along the Oder)
- river shipping was stopped in time

Germany has 30 M3 Amphibian rigs in active service (and apparently some more in storage), the UK 38. Others were exported past NATO's borders, the production total was 110 apparently.

With normal readiness and normal river width in mind and with the French inventory of similar amphibious bridging vehicles in mind one could expect 3-6 such pontoon bridges to be created. I have no idea whatsoever about the Polish inventory and capability in this regard; I can only guess that they would have participated in the exercise if they had anything similar. Their PTS vehicles are nowhere close in capability.
Two or three routes with 4-6 such pontoon bridges might be established across Oder and Vistula approx. within 24 hrs after strikes on the normal bridges, but maybe it would take 48 hours - this depends on the readiness of the units.

The capacity of two such routes with 250 vehicles/hour might suffice for alliance purposes, but it sure wouldn't be luxurious. Even with every vehicle a lorry with an average of 10 tons cargo, this would only be 120,000 tons throughput per day on two routes maximum. Realistically, it would rather be close to 50,000 tons per day taking into account that not only supplies, but also reinforcements would cross those bridges. 50,000 tons supplanted by what crosses the mountain passes of Slovakia - enough for approx. 12 divisional equivalents, or ~36 brigades. That's plenty supply capacity compared to what could be in (arrive at) the region within a week or two, but not much if we consider the supply needs of non-divisional forces, the possibility of damage by hostile action, or the quantities of forces that we'd want to have by the NATO doctrine of "counter-concentration" in the event of crisis.
And of course this capacity is one-way only; to maintain this throughput in one direction no vehicle would be allowed to return.

One might arrive at the conclusion that reactivating whatever M3 Amphibian vehicles are in storage and adding a few more simple steel (un)folding pontoon elements to the inventory may easily be worth the expenses in terms of deterrence and defence. The current inventories look to be close to the minimum requirements, without any robust reserve capacity.
We should also think about how to defend such pontoon bridges against air attack.
Furthermore, the battalions (German, UK and French) that can build such pontoon bridges should be held at highest readiness, second to no other land forces elements.


*: I suspect this is what the "bunker penetration with cruise missiles" craze of the 1990's and 2000's was in part about.  Bunkers alone could not explain the quantity of such missiles purchased, even if we count hardened aircraft shelters (which would not require that very much dedicated ammunitions). Germany alone purchased 600 Taurus missiles!

edit October 2016: The French system


Airbase safety

Airbase protection is quite an issue for Western air powers, not the least because Western combat aircraft rarely have the undercarriage for rolling over unpaved surfaces. I saw what happens with combat aircraft that leave the runway at low speed without a suitable tire size: They sink in and need a crane for safe recovery. One such crane also happened to crack the concrete plates of the taxiing area with its outriggers on a recovery exercise. You don't want Western combat planes on unpaved grass surfaces, period.

This means craters at intersections may block planes from reaching the runway for take-off - regardless of how gold-plated said planes are. Repairs and metallic carpet sections laid over other grass areas may alleviate this, but for many Western air forces this is such a low profile, unsexy thing that they didn't spend or train on being prepared for this.

Traffic control towers, maintenance hangars, aircraft bunkers, kerosene depots and even such petty things like the rooms where the braking chutes (in use with some combat aircraft types) get stored, inspected and folded may be missed sorely once hit. Most obviously, aircraft parked in the open would be very easy targets.

image credit: RAND Corporation
NATO prefers well-established, well-built airbases for combat operations, almost irrespective of how far they are from the air strike targets. This offers some security by distance, protection by structures and securing against sabotage is made quite easy as well. The downside is the often ridiculous distance to the strike targets and patrol areas, and as a consequence a ludicrously high demand for tanker aircraft.

Yet how far away is far enough away? Recently I pointed out the rumoured 499 km range of the Iskander missile (415 km confirmed) and how this turns almost all of Poland into poor areas for NATO airbases.
Treaty obligations created the artificial limit at 500 km for land-based cruise and ballistic missiles, but this doesn't apply to missiles on ships. A few ships in the Baltic Sea could serve as missile platforms, 'arsenal ships', purely meant for surprise strikes at 1,500+ km range. This could even be improvised within a year, using some old freighter as platform.

Another possibility would be even more difficult to defend against once the initial surprise effect waned; huge waves of killer drones. Yes, "killer drone" sounds spectacular and sci-fi, but Germany had worked on such a concept since the 1980's* and Israel has put such a thing into service for anti-radar work about as long ago already. Such killer drones are nothing more than ordinary missiles with propeller instead of turbine or rocket propulsion. 

IAI Harop drone (c) Julian Herzog
Israel's Harop drone offers a 23 kg warhead and a published range of 1,000 km. Autonomous operation instead of a radio link is very much feasible with almost any drone design.
Launched from mere trailers a wave of 100-200 such drones would be impossible to stop. They could reach airfields 900-1,000 km away (depending on winds) and engage all vehicles in the open as well as the usually at least partially exposed kerosene storage and the traffic control tower. This would not need to be too terrible against normal airbase operations. A replacement air traffic radar can be used.** The quantity of aircraft stored in the open can be minimised, and those which are may be concealed-enough to prohibit pattern recognition by the drone's software.
This is completely different when the airbases are overcrowded or  civilian airports without hardened aircraft hangars need be used. So essentially every airbase of great importance for Baltic defence would be terribly vulnerable to such drone wave attacks in addition to the more traditional threats.

There's not much that can be done against this; active air defences wouldn't work. Barrage balloons with nets could be countered by LIDAR sensors, enabling the drones to avoid the nets.*** Or the drones could be programmed to simply fly over the barrage, which is easily possible if the service ceiling is 2,000 m or better. Active defences would be saturated easily, and autonomous drones do not need to maintain jammable radio links.

I'll skip on many more traditional threats to airbases, and fast forward to conclusions:

A compromise for airbase safety could be to build airbases of sufficient capacity at roughly 500-600 km distance to possible aggressor territory. These bases (and their ground crews) would need to be prepared to cope with damage done, such as with backup traffic control, improvised taxiways (metallic carpets capable of supporting combat aircraft at maximum take off weight) and quick repair of runway damage (such as EOD effort and quick dry cement). They should offer enough modestly hardened aircraft shelters, and additional aircraft-concealing shelters.

I feel free to assert that we don't have these preparations regarding Baltic defence, I would surely have heard about such construction projects. Such investments would be utterly unsexy to the top brass and civilian bureaucrats anyway. There would be hardly any additional officer career opportunities, no additional sexy supersonic jets, no additional officers would receive or maintain pilot status with extra pay, hardly any additional personnel to play with, no additional prestige ... investments in former Warsaw Pact airbases in East Germany would even be mocked by the public; airfields that cause noise when used and would seemingly be without justification if no aviation wing was based there permanently.

Yet it's often these unsexy back office things that determine whether a deterrence and defence effort is robust or crappy. This is doubly disconcerting because the somewhat new threats of precision-guided cruise and ballistic missiles (30+ years old is still "new" to slow-moving bureaucracies) and long range autonomous attack drones did not influence the collective memory and concept of air war in earlier wars. Well they didn't do so with us on the receiving end. Lessons from WW2 are still more ingrained into the Bundeswehr than lessons the Americans collected from beating up Arabs much more recently. You don't learn well from others telling about their exploits; you learn well from overcoming your own problems.


*: Resulting in the TAIFUN and TARES drones.
**: Though I heard back when I was in uniform that when NATO OPEVALs check the "excellent" box for the presence of such a radar, it's often a scam and the radar is not really operational. Back up traffic control radars aren't high profile, not sexy enough as well.
***: LIDAR has been used to give helicopter crews a tool for detecting overland powerlines at night, to make night missions safer.

edit 20 September 2016: Some more details about rapid runway repair systems, lest someone thinks I didn't take their utility into account fully: 
Runway repair systems such as FAUN, Dallexpress or Microtech. Example here. The concept itself is old. One problem with these is that some anti-runway (sub-)munitions do not leave huge craters with easily identified damage. They penetrate and may rest embedded in the ground for hours until they finally explode after all. This greatly complicates air base repairs. You need to find every tiny penetration hole, EOD needs to blow up whatever may be in that hole (creating a crater). So after an attack on a runway, you need to (1) inspect the runway (2) EOD removes debris, duds and scatterable mines from the runway (everything small can be swiped off the runway fairly quickly with rotating devices that reminded me of a mobile car wash) (3) fill big craters with soil (4) find and blow up tiny holes, filling them and deep craters up with quick dry cement or other materials (5) apply such road-laying equipment to create a hard surface for aircraft again  (6) thoroughly inspect everything (easily half a square kilometre!) for even tiny foreign objects and finally (7) clear the runway for fixed wing operations again.
All this takes time, thorough peacetime preparation (equipment stored, training), needs to be done in parallel with coping with wounded personnel, fires and various damages on buildings and it reduces the sorties generation by the air base on that day.
Still, I think threats that make overcrowding (past the capacity of hardened aircraft hangars) unacceptable or very costly are even more important than the cratering threats that do merely delay sorties. Runway denial attacks are something that you can prepare to mitigate quickly, and both this equipment and training are fairly cheap (but need to be done; the state of the art is of no use without its application!).

The French Durandal seems to be the most famous runway denial bomb, but to me the technology of the Russian RBK-500U BetAB-M runway denial cluster bomb is of most concern. This kind of payload could also be applied by cruise missiles.


How to run a society

This is a "freedom" (civil liberties)-related blog post, a nice break from all that military hardware I recently wrote about (even though I wasn't *really* writing about hardware, but I suppose superficially it looked like I did).
_ _ _ _ _

It's fairly obvious these days both in comparison between certain developed countries and in close looks at certain recent politics changes in several countries that the Western world is in a conflict of very basic ideas about how to run a society.

On the one hand there's modern liberalism with its emancipation movements. Liberalism tries to create an ever better society by bursting shackles, freeing the people from restrictions. Followers of different bible interpretation or even altogether foreign deities are allowed to. Women are allowed to wear pants, work, have sort uncovered hair, vote etc. Gays are allowed to be gays and so on.

 "In meinem Staate kann jeder nach seiner Façon selig werden"
"In my dominions every one may be happy in his own fashion."
Frederick (II.) the Great, King of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg
There's also an altogether different way of how to run a society: This way demands of everyone to behave according to tight limits of tolerable behaviour. Women got to respect men. Gays do not exist. You better pray to the Christian god or better perfectly hide your faith and don't dare apply for public office or do a speech.

It's fairly easy to see how this authoritarian and relatively oppressive system causes discomfort to many women, all gays and most heretics and heathens. That's why it seemingly fell out of fashion in the Western world, and supposedly increasingly so.

Yet by now it's obvious that the liberal approach causes discomfort as well. Those who felt this discomfort have come to sunlight during the last few years in Hungary, United States, Netherlands, France, Poland. Their heroes are (supposed) strongman politicians who promise to establish order - the order in which all those deviations from a tight set of acceptance rules are pushed back into acceptable behaviour, or else. Me being a Sozialliberaler (this doesn't translate literally into English) with a hint of green, I called these people "dangerous idiots". I may have underestimated their numbers, and grossly so. 5-10% was optimistic. In the United States it's rather ~30%.

Maybe it helped me that some liberals got so progressive that even I was a little bit left behind and baffled by the most avantgardist (or most "extreme") views about supposed emancipations. Today I have developed a little bit more respect than calling them "dangerous idiots". "Enemies of liberty" would suffice. Then again, some of them do really deserve both descriptions.

What drove me to write this article is that recalling my economics education I found a way to interpret their behaviour with well-established tools, in fact one of my favourite tools; preferences.
They may be horrible bigots against gays, women, Muslims et cetera, but their discomfort with living in a liberal society (where other people are allowed to deviate far from their behaviour) is real. They really feel this discomfort, because they have a preference for a more orderly, homogeneous society.
This preference is actually as legitimate as is the preference of gays for living the gay way of life.

The discomfort that authoritarians force on gays etc. in pursuit of homogeneity is equivalent to the discomfort that liberals force on authoritarians by creating a heterogeneous, "diverse" society with emancipated subcultures.

There's no real golden rule to solve this conflict known to me; migration is not really a solution because the issue reappears in every generation, even before the children leave their parents' household.

Maybe it would help in the current domestic dissonances if both sides learned to understand that the other side endures legitimate discomforts if one has one's way. In the end, one might learn to at least tone the rhetoric down, to not artificially increase the visibility of some deviations, to respect the idea of liberty a bit more on the other side of the aisle (not just in theory, but in reality) and most importantly; respect the legitimacy of majority rule.

On the other hand, from a progressive's point of view those people REALLY ARE dangerous idiots.


P.S.: What worth has the defence of freedoms against foreign powers if you have no freedoms at home anyway? The whole idea of a military as protector of freedom only begins to make sense if you enjoy freedom at home!


The ideal AFVs for African forces

Africa's climate zones
Threats, terrains, budgets and recruit civilian skills are very different in Africa compared to Europe, resulting in altogether different 'optimal' solutions.
It's an economics tragedy that What they get to used is rather 30-40 years old European equipment than something tailored to their needs.

It's an interesting thought exercise to try to find out what their optimum is. I doubt I get it right by more than 80%, though.

Need for protection

Mines were common in wars in the South of Africa, but aren't common in wars that didn't last long yet. Even smaller African countries aren't really "small" (Togo is larger than Lower Saxony, for example), and though the road network isn't very dense and largely unpaved, AT mines should not be a top priority. It would still make sense to have some distance between the forwardmost ground contact (of wheels or tracks) and the forwardmost crewmember(s), as well as at least some armoured plate.

The small arms threat is mostly 7.62x51mm and 7.62x54mmR, with at most cheap steel core bullets, but mostly rather ball.

The vehicle-mounted threat ranges up to 14.5x114mm calibre, with AP bullets. This threat is typically mounted on unarmoured or at most lightly armoured vehicles, so if you can defeat them by firepower you need not expect many hits by them. Nighttime aiming of this threat is limited to flare illumination and tracer rounds, typically no night sights of better than ~200 m range against camouflaged vehicles.

The portable AT munitions threat is as far as I know about 95% limited to bazooka and RPG type munitions with single stage HEAT warhead, effective range no greater than 150-200 m and penetration no greater than 400 mm RHAeq. A few newer munitions with penetration better than 500 mm RHAeq may be encountered, though. The users of these weapons and munitions will typically not be well-trained or experienced in shooting at fast-moving targets.

Need for firepower

AFVs would be most efficient at bringing heavy arms and much ammunition to a firefight in support of the infantry. Few hostile AFVs would be encountered, and hardly ever exceed the protection level of a T-55. Better protected MBTs exist only in very small quantities.
Almost no African building structures present as much a challenge as the infamous Afghan ones, so no huge HE shells are required (76-90 mm HE would suffice).

T-55 in Ethiopia
An AFV would have sufficient firepower with a 106 mm recoilless gun and a 14.5 mm machine gun, though a 90-105 mm tank gun with a normal calibre coaxial machine gun would probably be best. 100 and 105 mm tank guns are very widespread, which would make it fairly easy (for a state) to ensure the ammunition supply.

Ammunition storage should probably favour storing more machine gun belts over full exploitation of main gun cartridge storing capacity. The main gun ammunition would not be insensitive munitions, and much of the storage capacity would be at great risk of secondary fire and explosion in case of a HEAT penetration. 7.62 and 14.5 mm cartridges will also be more easily sourced than 90-106 mm munitions.

Need for mobility

Unpaved roads are typical in much of Africa, and it would be nice if the vehicle didn't ruin neither unpaved nor paved roads by using them. This is a huge drawback of T-55 style vehicles unless you can afford atypical rubber pad track links.

Gasoline and diesel fuels should be easily sourced, though good fuel economy is still a huge advantage.

To maintain mobility requires maintenance or (hypothetically) a maintenance-free vehicle. 

Essentially, this means tracked vehicles won't drive around much for want of spares and high expenses per km moved (spares and fuel considerations). The affordability is the better the less vehicles you need ceteris paribus, so a high mobility vehicle that can easily be sent with a truck convoy to some distant location without much headache is much more economical than tracked vehicles that would rarely be sent anywhere else than the capital (unless there's a hot spot region or a long ongoing battle).

Offroad driving is very much possible in much of Africa because hard ground reduces ground pressure and traction concerns, but then again in many places badly restricted by tyre damage by vegetation and rocks, woodland and wet or soft ground conditions in many places.

Small rivers would typically be crossed by wading, which may be a major problem with some 4x4 AFVs.


Violence in Africa 1997-2011
Tracked vehicles are prestigious, but a maintenance nightmare. They lack strategic mobility. T-55 like vehicles would make sense with bar armour and rubber pad track links if supply of spares and 100 mm HE shells is secured, but they should at most be part of a AFV mix. They should be limited to one or few tank battalions which - while having their escort infantry company that's trained in providing close escort and providing battlefield illumination with light mortars - would primarily serve as main effort reinforcements which rarely move long distances and usually wait at the capital, being led by most loyal officers.

For wheeled AFVs, the "technicals" approach doesn't allow for enough protection. Up-armouring medium trucks of about 6+ tons payload capacity with simple RHA plates (in worst case: construction-grade steel plates) would yield a vehicle that would lack protection against 14.5 mm. Even bar armour would not produce reliable RPG protection to such a vehicle.

An alternative would be to purchase old light wheeled AFVs; BTR-40, BTR-152, BTR-60, BTR-70 and their Western counterparts. These, too, would need bar armour and at least on the frontal surface additional steel plating (against 14.5 mm AP at 300+ m). Their armament would need to be improved to a turret with at least 106 mm RCL and 14.5 mm machine gun, which could be improvised if you have talented people in a workshop and an idea  of what you're doing.

The optimum

I think the answer is fairly simple: French 6x6 AFVs with 90 or 105 mm tank guns are near-perfect for the high mobility role:


It might be possible to purchase some of these, since the French have more AMX-10RC than they need (especially not modernised ones), and are working on a successor already.

The protection level is their greatest shortcoming; RPG/bazooka munitions could be stopped reliably (likely not even with acceptable armour upgrades). This restricts tactics very much especially in urban areas, which justifies a high/low mobility mix with T-55s (with bar armour and track pads) serving as the low mobility (yet high protection) counterpart. Ideally, one would replace their armament with Western 105 mm L7-type tank gun and 7.62x51 mm machine guns and put the Warsaw Pact standard armament into storage just in case (of difficulties with sourcing Western ammunition).
Both vehicle types were selected because they are (in case of AMX-10 RC: supposed by me) available as used and thus cheap vehicles. Even the cheapest new armoured vehicles mounting a used 90-105 mm tank gun and machine gun would cost in excess of USD 500,000. The ubiquitous T-55 can be had much cheaper than this and AMX-10 RC may be available for less as well if the government has good relations with France (or France wants to improve relations).

So as usual I strongly took economic considerations into account in military affairs. A military provides a service, and there's no benefit in overpaying for this service.


As mentioned before, T-55 should be concentrated in one or few independent tank battalions as reinforcements. The armoured cars meanwhile could be organic AFV support of motorised battalions that otherwise mostly use commercial trucks and pickups of types that proved themselves well in the country in question.Those AFV companies should include their own escort infantry as well, a squad per AFV. The reason is the same as with the tanks; it's uneconomical and unrealistic to train all regular infantry in tank-infantry cooperation, but such training is most valuable for reducing AFV attrition. Hence the specialised escort infantry. A mere squad instead of a platoon at with the tanks would be enough because the appropriate tactics would require less escort infantry.

This is not incompatible with what I wrote before about Third World military forces. Think of the AFV forces and the organisation in army-style battalions as what the country would reach by mobilizing for conflict for two years. The normal peacetime organisation could still follow what I wrote in 2011, even (if not especially) in face of minor internal or border troubles.


The 6x6 AFVs would be well-suited for pursuit actions if accompanied by infantry on trucks with improvised protection.

Overwatch missions would be quite easy in daytime; a single AFV no a hill could block several square kilometres for hostile mounted forces. AFVs could also be used to reinforce checkpoints, albeit this requires a good checkpoint layout and both disciplined and diligent infantry or police. AFVs could be too easily captured on checkpoint duty if it's not done well. The same applies to overwatch hilltop positions at night.

The most important battle task would be the defeat of hostile above ground positions (mostly positions in buildings) and scaring away "technicals". This direct fire support (tactical role of assault guns) should be given from 250+ m distance with a small infantry platoon as close escort (both to minimise the RPG/bazooka threat).

The 6x6 AFVs could not be sent into close combat situations often for want of RPG/bazooka protection. Hence the tanks would be used for this (in woodland, urban areas) if such actions are necessary. Again, most infantry could not be expected to cooperate well with the tanks, so only the organic escort infantry should be close to the tank. This should not be the main infantry of major assaults because of its scarcity, though.
The regular infantry would be in battle in woodland or urban areas, a battalion commander would call for tank support and an ad hoc team with two tanks and two small platoons of escort infantry would arrive on the scene to deliver suppressive machine gun fires and 100/105 mm HE shells wherever portable weapons and munitions don't suffice.

Honourable mention

The former Soviet 2S1 122 mm SPG combines direct fire support with indirect fires capability, has excellent offroad mobility while both spare parts and ammunition are easily (though not necessarily cheaply) sourced (for a state).

I didn't favour it because it also combined poor protection with low strategic mobility and the demands of a tracked vehicle in general.


P.S.: This doesn't quite sound like a prescription for Egypt, but let's face it; the time of aggressions such as the 1956 Suez conflict is over. The only Egyptian defence against Israel that would count would be a renewed alliance with Russia, but this would lose the military bureaucracy American subsidies. So the way to go for them is not to invest in the military to face Israel, but to simply keep the peace diplomatically. They have a big inventory of tanks with no doubt rather poorly trained crews, and their army bureaucracy will want to keep this inventory. They don't need it nor do they have much good use for it, but they won't let loose of their toys.
The text was still mostly about sub-Saharan Africa, of course.