A hiatus in European-American cooperation

The recent NATO summit and G7 summit may have huge influence on future (next few years at most) foreign policy in the West.

Previously, many heads of state and heads of government had their phone calls and ended them with let's say an 'opinion' about Trump.

Angela Merkel was forced to explain the “fundamentals” of EU trade to Donald Trump 11 times after he repeatedly asked to do a deal directly with Germany, a senior German official has claimed. The US President reportedly exposed "very basic misunderstandings" of how EU trade works during a meeting with the German chancellor last month. “Ten times Trump asked [Ms Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official told The Times. "On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.'"

This time they saw him in action at summits. The Brexit issue would have been the peak tension between May and others at such meetings. Instead, the huge division  between the Trump administration and the rest of NATO and G7 summit attendees was the dominant story.

I think they took away a different lesson learned than from the individual phone calls; this time, they gave up on doing much foreign policy with the Trump administration because it's pointless. Cooperation would be quite pointless even if Trump was able to understand their points (and paying attention for more than four minutes) at all and somehow convinced to agree (Trump seems to be naturally aligned to agree with dictators and authoritarians like Putin, Abdulaziz, Erdogan, Duterte - not so much with Western leaders).
An agreement is worth nothing if you have it with a man who's lied or misled on the record 488 in his first 100 days in office. I suppose in the future foreign policy in the West will invite the Trump administration to cooperate only pro forma, not for real. The diplomats will work towards cooperation that works without inclusion of the U.S..

I wrote years ago about NATO's function of keeping Europe and North America befriended instead of adversaries. It's astonishing that this may be shattered for a while by a single disastrous politician.

I was sceptical about the Eastern European emphasis on the alliance with the U.S. before, but by now - with Trump being in much better and much more cooperative mood with Russian diplomats than with NATO allies - it should be obvious that the way to go is to pay attention to European defence for real. The U.S. DoD may send small forces on photo op tours through the Baltics as much as it wants, but these are empty gestures now.

This is not about an end to alleged freeriding - the Europeans in NATO or EU vastly outspend and outnumber the much less modern Russian armed forces on their own. The U.S. is not needed for European deterrence against Russia. Most of the U.S. military is geared towards 'expeditionary' warfare; bombing and occupying people in the Third World with prioritisation of casualty avoidance over mission accomplishment. A large share of the U.S. armed forces isn't relevant to European defence anyway and the spending inefficiency is gross.

Instead, this is about doing preparations without the U.S. but without much usually wasteful extra spending. The relevant headquarters (especially SHAPE) and NATO AWACS units need to be able to function after all U.S. officers were kicked out for OPSEC reasons. Contingency plans must not depend on U.S. assets at all.
Essentially, we Europeans should pretend to not be allied with the U.S. any more, because we couldn't count on Trump in any way.


edit: I didn't see this before I published this post:

I wasn't aware that my interpretation is official policy already!
P.S.: I really, really would have liked to take a dig at Italians as allies of Germany somewhere, but this topic is too serious.


"Bundeswehr" tag

There is a theoretical possibility that I may need to withdraw at least some of the "Bundeswehr"-labelled blog posts for professional reasons in the near future, so in case you want to read them before they potentially disappear here's the link to all posts labelled this way:

This would not happen if I had stuck to "S O" as signature from the beginning.



Lightweight warhead direct fire projection

The title looks awfully technical, but it's precisely on topic, for I see a gap in the available hardware.

I began to compile a list of lightweight equipment to see how much weight could be saved from the infantryman's load over a year ago, and identified a gap. There was no satisfactory device to propel a substantial grenade forward in direct fire.

All military off-the-shelf solutions appear to be deficient in one way or another.

The anti-tank weapons and munitions are often meant to penetrate heavy passive protection and are much too heavy for almost everything. The PzF 3 is one of the few good ones, but it's awfully heavy at 13.3 kg + sight unit.

There's a wide range of mid weight solutions with calibres of around 80-90 mm, but they are too weak against tanks from any but the best angles and still needlessly heavy (often about 6 kg per round) for most other purposes.

The supposedly lightweight bazooka and RPG category solutions such as M72 and RPG-26 are terribly short-ranged. It's hard to hit a stationary tank at 200 m with these (unless you know the distance), and 300 m is an entirely impractical distance.

Rifle grenades overcame most of the old criticism with bullet traps and aren't that much slower to use than a stand-alone grenade launcher if the latter is not the primary weapon (extending a buttstock and flipping up sights costs time as well). Still, their dismal effective range and terrible dispersion in range at it disqualify rifle grenades. The calibre of rifle grenades varies form about 35-76 mm, with disclosed RHAeq penetration values of up to 275 mm RHAeq. The IMI BT/AT-44 HEDP round is a good representative at 41 mm calibre; 160 mm RHAeq penetration and 490 g weight. Still, its effective range of something around 100-150 m is very unsatisfactory in my opinion.

30 to 45 mm grenade launcher rounds need not apply. All of them have a small calibre and spin stabilisation, which degrades HEAT effect and thus penetration. The highest penetration claim for a 40x46 mm HEDP grenade that I ever found was the 90 mm RHAeq claim of the DM 12. That's theoretically enough to penetrate a BMP-3's frontal protection (~ up to about 60 mm RHAeq). The effective range of such a round is still dismal at a mere 76 m/s muzzle velocity (barely good for 100 m), and medium velocity models would have increased spin (=less penetration) and little more effective range.

Millions of "Panzerfaust" have been produced in WW2, most were used - but a mere few ten thousand were expended against tanks. Such "anti-tank" munitions are needed and used as grenade projectors beyond throwing range. This was observed in all wars ever since. All but dedicated anti-MBT munitions of man-portable grenade weapons should thus be HEDP (high explosive dual purpose = shaped charge with fragmentation liner outside) munitions or have no shaped charge at all.

- - - - -

The effective range of man-portable warhead projectors doesn't need to be huge against infantry because competent adversary infantry will hardly ever be detected beyond 100 m distance. The effective range against vehicles (including lightly armoured vehicles like BMP, BTR and BMD series) on the other hand should be fine. This should at least equal the 300 m effective range of small arms against soft targets, but 400 or 500 m would be better because no-one wants to dismount infantry from BMPs or BTRs 500 m distant from the next cover.

Having voiced my dissatisfaction with all the available hardware I'd like to present a hypothetical and certainly feasible design:

  • A simple launch tube with a 45-60 mm calibre
  • The sight accepts a standard night vision monocular device (such as taken from a helmet)
  • A rocket inside with a charge that expels the entire rocket forward at low speed with a slow spin, so indoors use is possible.
  • The rocket ignites and accelerates to a high subsonic speed (about 300 m/s) which it sustains.
  • Accelerometer chips measure the rocket's movements in four dimensions and a microprocessor calculates the fusing of minute charges to correct the trajectory against wind drift, gravity and so on.
  • A fuse which can be set to a short delay (enough to penetrate doors, windows and soft vehicles) or point detonation super quick modes by electromagnetic induction.
  • The HEDP warhead deals the damage (penetration and graze fusing sufficient to defeat a BMP frontally).  Its shaped charge should not use an expensive liner (no tantalum), and should be optimised for much effect behind thin armour plates.*
  • The accelerometers can be used to correct unsteadiness of the user, but they can also be used to observe the movement of a target which was tracked with the launcher's sight for two seconds prior to launch. The missile could then fly an intercept course based on the extrapolation of the movement.
There's but one weapon and munition that comes close: The Israeli IAI Picket. It's so very obscure and unknown I had to scan pages of my Jane's Weapon Systems 1984/85 book to show it, for there's almost nothing about it in the internet.

I suppose with today's technology such a rocket weapon could be reasonably cheap and weigh about 2.5 kg including a simple launcher. An effective range of 400 m should be feasible against 1x1 m target areas, even if the target is moving steadily. That's enough to choose where to hit a non-moving target instead of having an unsatisfactory chance to hit at 200 m distance at all as with RPGs. The Raytheon's Pike has shown how very small guided missiles can be made nowadays. Accelerometer chips of sufficient quality are what enables the flight stabilisation of all those cheap quadcopter toys. We don't need a gyroscope as the Picket had.

This goes beyond mere hardware. The ability to equip the infantry with well-ranged grenade projection and anti-BMD firepower at lightweight would enable a very different behaviour by infantry. It would be more agile than with legacy weapons and munitions, while having a much better punch against all but MBT targets than without or with few legacy weapons and munitions. Keep in mind, I don't trust even the heavy man-portable munitions against modern MBTs.

We could equip an infantry squad with a couple such munitions and be confident in their ability to deal with opposition in thin-skinned AFVs and adversaries behind walls or inside buildings up to the effective range of their small arms. They wouldn't need to carry a few super-heavy anti-MBT rounds just in case some thin-skinned BTR shows up and opens fire at 300 m distance, degrading their choice of evasion routes.
A squad of 8 with six 2.5 kg weapons (15 kg total) instead of three Panzerfaust 3-IT (42.2 kg with basic sight unit) would save 27.2 kg - that's 3.4 kg on average per infantryman. This makes a huge difference, especially since the three men who carry the rounds would be MUCH more agile and have much better endurance. The break-even is actually at six rounds of my concept and a single Panzerfaust 3-IT !
I suppose there's no question about the relative effectiveness compared to the cheaper LAW-style weapons (M72, Miniman, SARPAC, RPG-18/-22/-26, RPG-75) - they cannot compete in accuracy or range and most of their versions lack a fragmentation liner.


P.S.: One could in theory - if the infantry or scouts use a stand-alone grenade launcher such as AG36 anyway - use a different approach to the same end.  A muzzle-loaded overcalibre munition for such a launcher could do the same. Again, calibre 45-60 mm and fin stabilised, and the launch would merely provide a low muzzle velocity. The rocket would need to accelerate itself after this launch beginning at a safe distance so the rocket doesn't affect the user. I'm not in favour of stand-alone 40 mm grenade launchers, so I favoured the more bazooka-like approach.

P.S. next day: BTW, this kind of autopilot guidance is immune to quick reaction smoke, and the short time of flight (less than 2 seconds) has the same effect. The short time of flight isn't really a necessity, although it reduces the problem of gravity (the missile has to fight gravity mostly with minute charges in order to fly the programmed straight line).

*: This isn't trivial. Shaped charges in part rely on turning the armour plate into fragments for behind armour effect (spalling). The thinner the plate, the less they have to work with. Spall liners, fibreglass plating and highly ductile plates reduce the spall effect further. Finally, BTR type vehicles usually don't carry much inside that's good for secondary fires or even explosions. To penetrate them is the easy part of defeating them for good.

edit 2017-7: This kind of guidance is called "predicted line of sight" (PLOS), though PLOS exists with a cheap autopilot as described here and with beamrider or command guidance methods. I could not remember or find the term when I wrote this article, sorry.



Erdogan visited Trump in Washington and his bodyguards saw it fit to assault peaceful protesters as if they were crushing dissent at home, in Ankara.

This reminds me of the Iranian Shah's visit to West Germany in 1967, which led to Iranian intelligence agents assaulting German protesters, which led to the creation of the German word "Prügelperser" ('beating Persians') specifically for this group of non-gentlemen.

The Shah, of course, was an absolutist monarch and his intelligence agents had zero respect for freedom of speech.



Theory of conventional land warfare at low force density again

There's a thing that you must not neglect when weaker and on the defence, even if this means neglecting everything else; reconnaissance and surveillance. The less assets you have, the more crucial it is to know how best to use them, and when to extract them from a crisis situation. You need knowledge about the enemy more than ever.

It's quite the same at low force density (few troops in a large region); some small element may encounter a superior hostile element any time because troops are not evenly dispersed. Local inferiority emphasises the importance of knowledge about the enemy. It's essential to avoid superior forces (or to delay them) and it's essential to extract a weaker element in a situation of impending doom.

The other ingredient is artillery, since it potentially covers a large area (or frontage) with its fires and is the quickest reinforcement for a locally inferior force.

General Otis, who had lived on that terrain, was also concerned about the ability of the two weak brigades to hold or even to cover 20 kilometres of ground. General Balck countered by saying that he would rely heavily an artillery in this sector.

There's still no major arms racing despite heavy mechanised forces and artillery have become fashionable in European NATO again. War scenarios for the defence of NATO (= what matters for conventional deterrence) are still showing a lower force density than the Cold War's Central European scenarios where a mere 26 NATO divisions faced a superior quantity of WP divisions on a roughly 1,000 km wide front for the first week. One brigade per 10-15 km frontage was a thin 'line', nowadays it's not unreasonable to expect temporary gaps as wide a a hundred km between brigades.

- - - - -

This should lead to a preference for scouting/skirmishing and artillery forces for "first two weeks of conflict" NATO ground forces in my opinion.

Instead, we see indications that more tank battalions and more artillery battalions will be raised in Germany after there was a perceived need to raise more infantry (Jäger) battalions during the Afghanistan occupation years. I have no knowledge of accurate plans (and doubt there are such plans yet), but there seems to be a neglect of scouting.

I write "scouting" for a reason; "observation" is not neglected. There are fine observation vehicles and (old) battlefield radars in use. Maybe the long range recon patrols (Fernspäher) should be more numerous (and accordingly less "special"), but overall surveillance and observation have gotten a lot attention post-Cold War. Technological progress was happening, and it was fashionable to exploit it (long range thermal cameras mostly).
It's the scouting part that's missing. Germany gave up the Luchs 8x8 vehicle years ago (out of service since 2009). It was quite silent, but its concept was stuck in the 1930's**. Nowadays we'd need something with a better gun, with better sensors, much smaller and with 360° camera coverage instead of a second driver for driving backwards. Sadly, there's no such vehicle available off-the-shelf that doesn't have the drawback of a too high ground pressure. It seems that either the expectations for the armament or the expectation for smallness won't be met. We have a choice between something Panhard VBL-like*** with a light armament (no more than a 20 mm gun such as the M621) and something as big as the Panhard SPHINX****.

It doesn't quite seem as if the doctrinal mistake of giving up scouting and focusing on surveillance & observation is going to be corrected in Germany and several other European countries (obviously excluding France) any time soon. The fashionable status of conventional land forces for deterrence should have led to more attention on scouting, but it doesn't seem so.

This may be because of the hopes on aerial drones as eyes in the sky. Aerial drones will not deliver persistent surveillance over a European battlefield, though. Much less will they be able to do true scouting here in the 2020's. They won't look into garages and sheds, under bridges, into buildings, talk to civilians, judge the state of foliage-covered forestry roads et cetera. This may become feasible in the long term (2030+), but that's a mere possibility and the gap is real. We shouldn't need to parcel out main battle tank trios for (noisy!) scouting while we have but a couple hundred of those.

- - - - -

This was so far mostly about "economy of force"; the weak forces that avert disaster in most places with as few assets as possible so the Schwerpunkt actions can be as powerful (irresistible) as possible.

I'd like to add that this temporal parallelism is not necessary, and at times not even advisable. We should strive to shape the battlefield in our favour before seeking a battle***** - battles should be decided ahead by preparations, not during the battle itself. This means that the conceptual and doctrinal Schwerpunkt should be on those forces that shape the battlefield in our favour. Scouting and skirmishing forces attached to corps or theatre command may do this by reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance and interdiction of supply flows.

We should pay more attention to such scouting, skirmishing and raiding forces. MBT battalions represent a brute force approach that befit the targets of a strategic surprise attack much less.

one more link to a related post:


*: Attack helicopters were believed to be very quick reaction forces during the 1970's (Brossolet et al) under the impression of experiments which yielded an exaggerated estimate of attack helicopters' lethality against tanks and before army officers began to understand how easy it had become for fighters to kill helicopters even at treetop altitudes. Helicopters are slower than artillery anyway; Artillery may intervene in a 4 minute skirmish 30 km away, while helicopters would arrive several minutes late.
**: Daimler Benz had a prototype 8x8 of such a concept in 1927 and the Büssig-NAG Sd.Kfz 231 of 1937 was almost identical to the Bundeswehr's Luchs in its concept.
***: SPHINX  and many other scout cars neglect the ability to comfortably and quickly dismount one scout to inspect buildings, climb to a better vantage point, look under a bridge and so on.
****: Germany could  upgun its Fennek, but its ground pressure is too high for soft soils without a substantial armament already. There are plenty soft soils in Eastern Europe, even in summer.
*****: I reject the inflationary use of the word "battle" for just about every firefight. I don't count anything smaller than a contact with more than a thousand dead as a "battle". Anything smaller is a "skirmish" (Scharmützel) at most.


Where is North Korea?


Americans who could find North Korea on a map:
39% of independents
37% of Republicans
31% of Democrats

Net support for military action:
+5% of those who did find NK
+9% of those who did not

(I can't tell the support for military action because the share of the non-responders etc. is not given.)

Overall more those who did find NK on a map of Asia wanted something (military or diplomatic) to be done about NK than of those who did not find NK.



MBT kits

Wartime tends to show that the combat forces of peacetime tended to lack certain preparations. More specialised forces (NOT quite our "special forces") appear and vehicles appear and more countermeasures are introduced.* They aren't necessarily available when useful, but to be available sometimes is better than never.

This is a recurring pattern, and to take it into account may enable one to guess where we are lacking today.

Let's look at something that everyone seems to have an opinion on already; a tank platoon.
Today the MBTs of a tank platoon are meant to be identical and deviations from this are - safe for markers - rather technical imperfections due to different production batches, poorly functioning components, different state of being worn out and so on.

Would we still want tank platoons of identical MBTs after a year or two of experience-gathering in intense land warfare? I suppose no.

We might prefer upgrade kits (integration by army workshops) like this:

(1) command & control kit (longer range radio, larger and higher resolution computer screen, laser target designator for PGM fire support)

(2) air threat kit (LINK 16 download of air threat picture, Rheinmetall FIRST IR-based alerter device, radar warning receiver, maybe remotely-controlled weapon station with 20 mm gun that's usable against drones)

(4) mineclearing kit (KMT-like)

(5) recovery set (winch, dozer blade - also useful against barricades and surface-laid mines and to create hull down positions)

Most modern tank platoon organisations only include four MBTs, so having so many different sets would specialise every tank (and the mineclearing set would be carried rarely). The loss of any such specialised tank might be compensated by other tanks with the same set in another platoon of the company, but not inside the platoon. Then again, having but one such kit in the platoon would often be better than having none. Today we have none.


*: Look at a German WW2 fighter, for example; the Bf 109E-1 series was the latest design as WW2 broke out in Europe. One light and one heavy fighter type. The light fighter evolved into fighter-bomber, bomber destroyer, night fighter, fighter reconnaissance, high altitude fighter versions in addition to successive baseline versions.


Estimates without complete information

There's a quite promising (and successful) method for judging policies and organisations when up-to-date inside information is wanting:

Look at patterns and typical preferences.
This is much less inaccurate than to extrapolate the past.

I do apply this very often, and also presented some standard models that describe patterns. Niskanen's budget-optimising bureaucrat and the principal-agent model apply to seemingly all bureaucracies at least to some degree.

Another pattern I mentioned (many years ago) was that technology advances from one arena to another as it becomes more compact, more lightweight and/or simply less expensive.
Some areas of military affairs are kept secret for decades, not mere years - and become visible to outsiders (which includes the vast majority of actively serving armed forces personnel) only when applied on a grand scale in a conflict. It's thus extremely difficult to form an informed opinion on military affairs as a whole.

This is a problem in a democracy, for it requires a break between principal (the sovereign = the people) and agent (the armed services) somewhere. Somewhere along the chain of political decisionmaking there's a leap from ignorant to informed. The voter doesn't know military secrets (that were kept secret for real), and thus has to authorise policies (including spending) without being fully able to decide on basis of actual information instead of propaganda.

This issue can be reduced greatly by applying a substitute for accurate information; the interpretation of what's non-secret with the knowledge about patterns and preferences. 
Everytime an air force general who was a fighter pilot argues for new fighters you take it with a grain of salt.
Everytime an admiral complains that no warship was christened for a year and asks for more shipbuilding funds you take it with a grain of salt.
Everytime an army general argues for some fancy HQ or new tank battalions you take it with a grain of salt.

Their recommendations may be good ones, but it's utterly inappropriate to trust them entirely. If in doubt, one should conclude that they could do the job with less than they ask for - at least if they did a better job than they do.

On the other hand, it's rather not likely that the demonstrative confidence of the armed services in old key equipment is appropriate. A stealth fighter concept won't be utterly dominant in a high end conflict against a capable opposing great power that had the motivation, the means and 30 years time to devise countermeasures. Anti-ship missiles developed in the 1970's and upgraded only within the limits of their original concept are not going to be anywhere near as good as actually new ones of the same class. Anti-tank munitions (which in the West have a proven history of lagging behind the best Soviet armour designs) of more than 20 years age are not reliable against high end opposing forces MBTs, period.

This may sound "sceptical", but keep in mind that the other path is called "naive".



Safe fuel storage at logistics hubs

One of the things that the typically small peacetime exercises don't test & train much is how to run 'rear area' logistics, including how to run logistical hubs (the successors of the railheads of old). There aren't many supply transportation & field depot-running troops in peacetime armed forces. This is one of the areas that depend heavily on reinforcement by reserve personnel in many land forces.

I suppose it's fairly obvious that commercial transportation of supplies (semi trailers with container or fuel tank) should be the means of transportation towards two fairly protected and leap-frogging army corps logistical hubs. Transportation of supplies (=overwhelmingly diesel fuel and artillery shells & propellant modules) from the hubs to drop-off points (if not end users) in the field could and should then be done with military vehicles; mostly flat rack and PLS/MULTI/EPLS/DROPS-compatible vehicles in approx. 15 ton class. This resupply should happen daily, most likely it would happen on every other day and when things go wrong better don't depend on it at all. Hence all manoeuvre forces should be supplied for approx. three days minimum, and scouting forces for even longer.

Supply convoy in Vietnam; I would not want to serve in any
vehicle with "flammable" written in big letters on it, in a warzone!
The security of such supply hubs is an interesting topic. Relatively low quality troops could be used to secure them against attack on land, assuming that only armoured recce and airborne troops are likely threats (let's disregard agents and sabotage by civilians for this was hardly ever a substantial issue in short historical wars). Air and missile attack are an altogether different threat, and some area air defence system would be an obvious choice.

Defences alone would likely not suffice, though. The supplies consumed by a mechanised corps in a mere week may easily amount to 50,000 metric tons plus packaging material (lots of wood and plastic).

To store that many explosive munitions and that much fuel in a single area that could be secured against stealthy attackers like airborne forces or armoured recce forces by a battalion takes a huge area. All supplies distributed in pattern of 50x50 m cells with average mass stored per cell of 5 metric tons would still be 25,000,000 square meters - such as 5 km x 5 km, about the size of an airbase.
This area becomes even bigger if you want to keep one fire or secondary explosion from leaping to the next bunch of supplies by insisting on 100 x 100 m cells - now we're talking about areas such as 10 km x 10 km. You COULD bunch everything into a square kilometre, of course. That would produce a most impressive inferno once hit.

It's obviously the better the more closely you can (relatively) safely store at least the fuels, and this requires some resilience to damage. It might be possible to protect some fuel reservoirs by storing them below ground level (quickly done with engineers' earthmovers IF there are enough of both engineers and earthmovers). You wouldn't afford the resources and time to build Hesco barrier-styled  fortresses as on occupation camps at the end of the world, after all.
Storage slightly below ground level would still not fully protect them from whatever threat comes from above, and to cover the fuel tanks (typically bladder tanks, but there are also collapsible cylindrical fuel tanks) with much soil to protect against burning debris would make it much harder to leap frog quickly while a single small bomblet could still penetrate and set afire the supplies.

flexible fuel tanks that serve as their own trailer are most fascinating
Provisions that control the manage damage (countering leaks and extinguishing fires) without much human intervention would be great to have. Supply storage areas could be much more compact, and still withstand at least merely occasional attacks (or they could be much safer while still being huge).

Two rather obvious options for this are self-sealing rubber tank walls

and automated fire extinguisher solutions.

(principle of operation; it doesn't seem to be as efficient for bladder tanks)

Now let's play a guessing game!

What do you think, how very close to heart is a sufficient stock of such things (from self-sealing fuel bladders to piping and fire extinguishing systems) to the leadership of an army say, in competition with 200 more officer job slots or maybe ten to twenty new main battle tanks?
Do you think the four star generals would passionately argue to the minister of defence in favour of thousands of empty rubber sacks with protection features and equipment at the expense of some headquarters where 200 officers work?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I keep insisting on civilian control of the armed services and on reigning in against the pursuit of self-interest by the armed services. It's also why I am so concerned about the bias created by career paths (an infantry officer would have a different bias about bladder tanks than a logistics officer). The civilian leadership needs to be advised by or include non-insiders with sufficient knowledge, of course.

More on this problem in general (in a more abstract way again) later.



Mystery Chinese seaskimmer missile

There are news about a weird Chinese missile that prompted me to check if the news were from April, 1st.





this is supposed to be the mystery missile

First a bit of a physics correction; radars operate mostly line of sight, but radio physics are MUCH more tricky than a check of line of sight. A missile that flies at 10 m altitude may evade detection by a radar that detects a missile flying at 4 m altitude. It's very, very tricky. The topic of a missile that flies at 50 cm altitude hasn't come up in any publication I read till yesterday and I'm no physicist myself, so I can't tell how much more advantageous such a 50 m flight profile may be over the 4-6 m altitude sea skimming figures published about typical subsonic seaskimmer missiles. I strongly suspect that it's still much more complicated than a simple horizon calculation.

Second, the safest way to "fly" THAT low would be to use ground effect very much for an 'air cushion' that keeps you from crashing at a gust.

The missile photo looks nothing like typical ground effect vehicles. They tend to have big wings, whereas that missile photo shows tiny wings and an at most widened fuselage.

Third, this would be a very, very rare example of the PR Chinese trying an innovative own way to address military challenges. Most of their military hardware are copies of the concept (if not specific types) of foreign designs, including the ballistic anti-ship missile (which the Soviets pioneered in the 1970's, but then gave up on in favour of ordinary nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles).

So right now I wonder if the May 4th article may be based on a Chinese April 1st article. The photo looks more like a target drone to me.



The ideal minister of defence

The current minister of defence in Germany (party: CDU) is under political pressure because of a scandal that exposes at the very least poor judgment of officers who could have been expected to handle a bad apple very differently. I don't see any farther-ranging systemic issues in this particular case in the information available.

Even the (many) comments in the most CDU-friendly real newspaper's website on an article about the minister's suitability for the job are very critical of the minister, but this may have many causes (among them a certain butthurt because the minister has criticised the military).

The reasons given by commenters on why the minister is unsuitable for the job vary very much - some are about the lack of knowledge about the military before taking this office, some complain about a primacy of political career and election success over getting the military right and others about performance on the job.

I myself consider Zensursula unsuitable for every public office based on the earlier policies and politics in office as minister of family, seniors, women and youth. Yes, this is specifically about the attempt to establish an unconstitutional internet censorship. Those policies did fit very well to the generally rather anti-liberal* and undemocratic nature of the CDU.

- - - - -

I like to address one particular notion that keeps resurfacing; the expectation that a minister of defence should have the background of an officer who served for years and learned to know the bureaucracy from the inside and at least some military-specific skills.

This is a rather naive idea in my opinion. The idea that such military competence enables a competent leadership is simple, enticing - and in utter disregard of the topic of preferences.

A competent leader who is good at leading doesn't necessarily produce a good outcome with his leadership.  
The question is; where does such a competent leader lead the organisation toward?

I repeatedly wrote about the principal-agent and Niskanen's budget-maximising bureaucrat. The long story short is that any military is an armed bureaucracy. An armed bureaucracy may look different from a civilian bureaucracy, but has some of the same inherent and systemic flaws. It's pursuing its self-interest and thus ends up pursuing something different than a most cost-effective delivery of the public good of security (deterrence and defence against external threats, in this case in a context of collective deterrence & defence, i.e. the NATO alliance). The pursuit of self-interests is described by the model of Niskanen's budget-maximising bureaucrat, though many more interests than budget size are in effect. The principal agent model describes that a principal (the sovereign) may task an agent (the armed bureaucracy) to act in the sovereign's place and interests, but the agent will pursue the agent's interests and needs to be controlled by the sovereign.

Now this is the very key of civilian control of the military: The sovereign (in Germany: the people) hires an agent (the minister) to do the job of controlling another of the sovereign's agents (the armed bureaucracy).

The idea that an officer who served many years inside the armed bureaucracy could do this well is naive because such an officer was indoctrinated to become part of the armed bureaucracy. Such a minister would know the bureaucracy and many of its flaws, but largely lack the motivation to force a change of course. To have such a minister is almost the same as giving up on the idea to hire an agent to control the other agent for the supposedly controlling agent is part of the controlled agent at least in the mindset.

An admiral as minister of defence would want to christen new warships even if there was no need for them whatsoever. A former fighter pilot as minister of defence would want new (or at least modernised) combat aircraft, even if the most pressing gap were obsolete air defences or tiny stock of munitions.

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The ideal minister of defence has tasted the military life (lieutenant of the reserves would be fine, more military background is typically more disadvantageous than advantageous).

There are two ideal archetypes of ministers of defence in my opinion:

(1) The reformer
This is a captain of the ship "military bureaucracy" who changes course away from "towards bureaucratic self-interest" to "towards sovereign's interests". A majority of senior NCOs and officers above level captain or at least above level colonel will hate his policies.

(2) The administrator
This is a captain of the ship "military bureaucracy" keeps the course, convinced that the ship is on the correct course already. This kind of minister doesn't force the bureaucracy to change much (which they hate), but has to defend the course against those who want to pursue the bureaucracy's self-interest.

The other archetypes are

(III) The typical colonel or general as minister of defence keeps or sets the ship on a steady course towards pursuit of bureaucratic self-interest. It's a cold comfort that such a minister of defence may be rather good at setting and steadying the course.

(IV) The typical career politician as minister of defence controls the ship with a priority on protecting (or furthering) his career, installs other career politicians and especially some long-time loyalists in high ranking positions. Such a minister of defence may also pursue some ideological goal, be this regime change on another continent, eliminating the risk of a coup d'état, reaching a quota of 50% women and gays in the officer corps or whatever.

I understand this was a highly abstract, kind of academic style blog post that may not be to many readers' tastes. The point is that to not look at the topic from this angle does lead to a wrong conclusion. A superb general may be a terrible minister of defence just as a superb colonel may be a terrible general. The requirements for the jobs are very different. In fact, minister of defence (commander in chief in peacetime in Germany) is no extension of the military hierarchy. It needs to be first and foremost an outside office that pursues a different course than the senior officers would on their own. That's the point of having a military under civilian control.


P.S.: Yes, I know I wrote about this before, sometimes I write on the same topic a new with a different angle, different example and so on if I think the earlier attempt wasn't fully satisfactory.

*: For Americans; this is "liberal" in the original and European meaning.