Weird marketing pushes for American right wing blogs

There's a marketing technique in which  a service loads certain blogs a couple times to let certain URLs appear in the traffic source of said blog. The blogger is then enticed to look why suddenly dozens if not hundreds of visitors came from that place.

The technique is no issue for bloggers with a huge audience, but it skewers the stats and annoys bloggers who have but hundreds of real visitors a day, like me.

Now I can see these things in my stats of the week's referring URLs.

What I can observe is a weird shift; usually the URLs that got pushed like that were assorted, often scammers or companies that offer services to bloggers.

This changed rapidly, and suddenly; now mostly American right wing blogs get promoted this way,  and with substantial "visitor" counts (around 40-120 a week). It's not all political blogs, though; there are also two couple (non-commercial) law-related blogs and one medical-related blog involved. Not a single political non-right wing blog was promoted, though.

The shift was so sudden that a decentralised motivation is utterly improbable. I suspect somebody with enough money decided to promote a certain portfolio of American right wing blogs in a fairly invisible way (invisible compared to fake followers on twitter etc.). An alternative explanation would be that somebody promoted this way of promotion, but it's quite implausible that bloggers with very few posts per month would pay for such a promotion. Their inclusion makes rather sense as providers of plausible denial or as part of a third possible (unlikely) explanation; a bug inside the statistics software of blogger.com.

And yes, I checked. These right wing blogs did not suddenly begin to link to me. These are no real referrals. I know a couple right wing bloggers who did link to me occasionally, and they are not among the ones who now benefited from that promotion.



Very low level air defence against flying drones

I've pointed at the issue of aerial drones as a battlefield air defence challenge that cannot be met with traditional dedicated battlefield air defence hardware. You simply cannot defend against 5,000...50,000 € drones by firing expensive missiles at them, and the handful of self-propelled anti-air gun crews cannot really defend other troops against drones that approach at less than 10 m altitude.

Small arms have to be the (metaphorical) last line of defence, particularly against the smallest drones - but small arms have a very poor probability of hit against drones a few hundred metres away if the user can spot and identify a drone at such a distance at all. This isn't trivial at night, for example.

Radio jammers have been developed, deployed and used to disrupt the radio command link and/or satellite navigation of flying drones.* A properly designed reconnaissance drone that encounters this would use its inertial navigation capability** to return to a pre-designated landing point, usually this would be the take-off location. The drone user would likely regain control before the drone would arrive. Well-designed autonomous killer drones would be most unimpressed by radio jamming.

Air defences that depend on acoustic sensors for alerting would be incapable of detecting gliding drones or drones that fly like an owl; silently.

Daylight and UV cameras would not suffice at night time.

Radars would have difficulty telling birds from drones that emulate bird behaviour, and the emissions might be treacherous.

Laser radar (LIDAR/LADAR - essentially scanning the sky with a laser) is incapable of identification as well - and I doubt it would be practical for 3D search for tiny objects.

Net projectors tend to be very limited in range and are bulky.

Hard kill weapons may reasonably range from 5.56 mm to 30 mm, and at 30 mm an electronic-timed  cannister round as in the German Puma IFV may be used. The timing would require some information about range, though.

- - - - -

Well, here's a possible standard subsystem for use on military vehicles. It's not totally specialised, so the introduction of such hardware may be realistic:

Think of a remotely-controlled weapon station (RCWS). The installed weapon would ideally be some .338 revolver machinegun with a controllable rate of fire, but realistically it would be an ordinary 7.62x51 mm machinegun (then preferably MG3). The traverse would be 360°, elevation -15°/+90°.
a typical RCWS, this example has a 12.7 mm gun
The RCWS would have two rings of microphones which can be used for sniper detection, can feed info in the radio network for triangulation of artillery and mortar fires, detection of helicopters and the microphones could also detect the typical noises of drones. They wouldn't be 100% reliable, but most drones might be noticed at useful distances.
There would also be a ring of four wide field of view uncooled infrared sensors, and one coaxial uncooled infrared sensor with zoom. The ring would provide a permanent all-round stare to detect threats and to provide the vehicle crew with all-round day/night vision. They could detect muzzle flashes and patterns/movement of ground targets as well. These staring sensors should detect drones at all relevant distances; drones should not be able to identify a stationary vehicle before its RCWS sensors detect them. The sensor range may thus be greater than the weapon range (a correct warning is very useful in itself).
The coaxial sensor would be used for identification. Its effective range should allow identification of targets (all kinds) at the effective range of the gun against those targets. A coaxial laser rangefinder could provide range information on the target and greatly improve the weapon's accuracy. It could also be used as an interrogator device of an identification friend or foe system in which the lased target may respond with coded radio message if it's friendly. Such a laser could - if the wavelength fits - be used for simulation purposes in training systems like MILES and AGDUS.

An alternative setup would use a rotating scanning uncooled IR sensor that switches to coaxial mode once a target is found. This approach was used by dedicated air search sensors like AD/AD, FIRST and also a couple less well-known systems (including a Swedish and a French one, but I keep forgetting their designations).

The all-round staring sensor setup could also be used for an active protection system; or an active protection system's staring sensors could provide the air search for a RCWS that has only a coaxial sensor. 

Either way, having enough infrared air search is going to be expensive; ten thousands of Euros per vehicle including necessary spare parts. The whole package could easily cost 200,000 € even with competent project management and a large production run. It would cost more if active protection system launchers are included as well and this does not include a software-defined radio to fully exploit the potential by networking the stations and integrating them into the formation's air defence and arty/mortar detection.

Now think of thousands of such RCWS deployed with an army corps, installed on combat and non-combat vehicles. Low altitude drones would have a much harder time. Autonomous killer drones could still overwhelm defences if they attack as a saturating swarm, of course. The only realistic defence against a swarm of autonomous killer drones may be another swarm of autonomous killers drones.

Autonomous killer drones are  quite a challenge, but currently there's little indication that the armed bureaucracies could cope with the much less difficult well-designed recce drones. There are hardly any programs for developing or buying equipment with the recce drone challenge in mind (known to me). The directional radio jammers won't help against well-designed drones and they are apparently never integrated with proper sensors.


*: Many companies came up with simple directional (mostly Yagi-type) antennas installed on something rifle-like to jam the radio bands relevant to commercial drones and pretend that they are oh-so great. Such technology is worthy of a 1930's electrical engineering student's homework.
**: Accelerometers are cheap nowadays, that's why there's a  the quadcopter boom; quadcopters require accelerometers for stabilisation.


The brigade's ideal radar

I have had some test-proven clue about electrical circuits and I have (had?) some test-proven clue about physics, but I'm nowhere near being a radar engineer or physicist with expertise on radio waves. Thus whenever I wonder if a certain radar could be take on some extra mission I depend on existing radars as proof of concept. 

To look at wavelengths (radar bands) doesn't really help. Most often the extra roles I think about aren't being ruled out by the short form descriptions of wavelengths and radar bands (and the multitude of radar band systems as well as the interchangeable use of wavelength and frequency is quite confusing).

For example, a strike fighter radar can do all radar jobs needed by the pilot, so why would a frigate need more than one radar? I can't really tell if it's a necessity to have a range of radars mounted on such platforms until some such platform actually does its job with less or even but one radar.

Well, one such interesting multi mode radars appeared in the public three years ago; the Swedish Giraffe 4A.

It's certainly not as optimised as specialised radars can be, but it appears to be capable of air search, air defence fire control (certainly good enough for missiles that have an autonomous seeker) and, apparently, it can detect and measure incoming (and thus also outgoing) artillery munitions.
The latter is a rare combination with the former two functions, and the combination of modern computing electronics, software and active electronically scanned antenna enables a (again likely not optimal) parallel function in all three modes.

The rotation (which can be switched off) may be a limiter for the artillery detection mission, since the normal way to detect hostile firing artillery and mortars is to scan the horizon for climbing mortar bombs, shells and rockets all the time. This cannot be done when the antenna is rotated away, which means there's a short time window in which detection of artillery ammunitions is unlikely.

That aside, this radar system strikes me as a most promising 'brigade radar' system. It cannot do ground surveillance, but that can and should be separated anyway, for such radars have to expose themselves to hostile passive radars much more than air defence and counter-arty radars by definition.*

One such radar in operation would suffice to support a battalion battlegroup with air threat warning, artillery and mortar strike warning, detection of hostile artillery and mortars, fire control for battlefield air defences, measurement of wind effects by measuring self-destructing shells/meteorological rockets & balloons. Two would be needed for leap-frogging, and a third would be needed to make this somewhat robust. Total quantity of radars needed per brigade could be 6-10, more if we assume a poor readiness of 70% or so due to fiscal and/or training neglect.

It's not affordable to provide a similarly robust radar support to a battalion battlegroup with specialised radars. Three air search radars, three air target fire control radars, three artillery radars and maybe two meteorological radars would not only require much more personnel and add many more vehicles to the roughly 100 motor vehicles of such a battalion battlegroup**; the procurement and training costs would also be huge. Nobody equips combat formations like that.

Three 15 ton 8x8 platforms with an ISO standard container that happens to be a multi-mode radar with its own power supply? That seems to be within reach for well-funded armies. Not all army brigades in NATO should spend on this, for some need to make do with tight budgeting, of course.


*: I suppose the perfect radar for impact measurement, synthetic aperture imaging and ground moving target detection as well as very low level helicopter detection should be mobile to elude dumb fires. See the Hovermast concept and the man-portable class of battlefield surveillance radars for this. The concept isn't new. AEG developed a tethered rotary drone in the 30's already. and a motor vehicle-less manned attempt for a tethered helicopter happened during the First World War already.
**: I strongly advise to keep the motor vehicle count low (not counting motorcycles and vehicles that don't march in the main column), in order to keep such a formation of manoeuvre agile. Clumsiness kills.


Russian battalion tactical groups

by CPT Nicolas J. Fiore

There's an inaccuracy regarding the "2013" date in the article and the author's matching up of a U.S.Army BCT with a smaller Russian BTG is weird and his primitive economics argument at the end is off as well*, but these points aside it's a very interesting piece.

The Russians are maintaining the pressure in the Donbas conflict by rotating personnel from several brigades into and out of the theatre; the battalion tactical groups are the in-Donbass area forces.

The concept of having a core of heavily equipped mostly professional troops supporting many lesser and smaller forces around them is interesting, and mirrors a concept of my own. The lightly equipped mercenary forces that receive such support provide security in return.

An all-regular forces concept of this kind could involve Jagdkommandos (detached reinforced infantry platoons) supported by a battalion battlegroup with communication nodes/relays, data downlinks, medical support, tanks, non-portable drones, resupply points, intelligence-gathering, artillery fires, engineering equipment, NBC detection, radar surveillance, electronic warfare and even area air defences. That's basically a list of all those things in modern 1st world land forces that grow the tail in the tooth:tail ratio.

I don't think that this would be a sensible approach for the first weeks of a conflict, and it would be very difficult to pull off in a very mobile phase, but it makes a lot of sense for when the hot conflict slowed down, and mobilised reserves provide much infantry while heavy arms (MBTs, SPGs) have become rare. The Polish effort to create infantry-centric militia forces could be interpreted in this light.

Returning to my idea; I actually pondered the concept of using mechanised brigades (each 2-3 spaced battlegroups and a support group) as forces in-being, providing an umbrella of support to dispersed and small unit-centric forces (mechanised skirmishers, light infantry). Only once the battlefield was shaped in an advantageous way or overly aggressive opposing forces behaviour forced the hand would such brigades turn into the mode of operations that's standard doctrine nowadays.

That's quite a contrast to the aggressive pursuit of tank battles known from 1967 and 1973 and also a huge departure from Blitzkrieg or Deep Battle recipes of the 1930's and 1940's.


P.S.: I should mention that the whole thing about the BTG reminds me of the Vietnam firebases; small outposts with howitzers that dominated the surrounding area because their howitzer fires gave infantry patrols an advantage over less-supported opposing forces infantry.

*: I made a similar argument in the past, but one needs to remember that exports only finance imports, not government consumption. Government consumption can be supported with domestic resources if a country is as large as Russia. It wouldn't be pretty, but it's possible. Strong exports make a high government consumption much easier and ultimately increase the maximum sustainable spending level, though.


The brigade's ideal MRL

First, let me dump a lot of links to previous and related blog posts (not last, as I do usually):

I also wrote before - and stand by it because physics didn't change - that traditional (area fires) multiple rocket launchers are a poor choice for mobile warfare. Their munitions are much more bulky and also heavier than howitzer munitions of equivalent effect - with and without packaging.
It's extremely difficult to reliably resupply a battalion battlegroup engaged in mobile warfare on every 2nd or 3rd day (forget daily resupply if you're in a defensive war*). Any force structure choice that makes logistical support even more difficult and/or less reliable is at least highly questionable. 
NATO armies largely gave up on multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) as area fires weapons, though; there's still no "dumb" HE rocket for MLRS in widespread use, even though the old cluster munitions were banned and phased out of service by most MLRS users in NATO.

Instead, the modern MRL tends to be a (not even necessarily well-protected) truck with a limited choice of guided missiles (PGMs) for point targets, often well out of range of conventional howitzer munitions (though this may change). PGMs are expensive and thus relatively few - compared to the old warstocks of DPICM rockets. The logistical concerns don't apply to MRLs in manoeuvre forces any more if the main munition are PGMs.

Years ago I mentioned - without appropriate emphasis - that a MRL could also be employed for area air defence (actually, modern 155 mm L/52 SPGs also have some serious potential in that role with PGMs). I'll put proper emphasis on this detail now.

The Western area fires weapon systems of today are - if there's any such thing left - most of the time self-propelled guns (SPGs). You can coordinate fires of dozens of dispersed SPGs to cover a large area with lethal fires, with all impacts arriving in a time window as short as 20 seconds. Modern communications, navigation systems and computing make this relatively easy. It once was almost an art and required detailed planning from 1916 till the early 1990's, but nowadays it can be done in a few minutes.
SPGs are also - as mentioned before - the logistically sound choice for the task. The increased rates of fire and the ability to concentrate "many" SPGs in one fire mission due to their much-increased ranges can substitute for the MRL's rate of fire advantage in the area fires mission. You do not need a high dispersion, inaccurate weapon such as a conventional MRL for an area fires mission; you can also use many accurate, small dispersion weapons and aim them at different points for the same effect with much less waste of munitions.

In short; SPGs have de facto taken over the area fires mission in the cluster munition ban countries and NATO as a whole, while the remnants of Western MRLs have escaped into a long range precision fires role.
This is hugely important, for it means that MRLs will rarely shoot, while SPG crews will be so busy 24/7 that we should consider double manning for them.

MRLs can take over other roles as well since they won't be dragged into hectic, ceaseless 24/7 activity.

One of these roles is battlefield air defence.

I wrote before about how lock on after launch missiles can engage targets without a line of sight between target and launcher, and how external sensors can deliver the necessary data for firing solutions (networked combat). This greatly reduces the expense for air defence hardware other than the munitions themselves and makes powerful battlefield air defences kind of affordable.
I also wrote about how the portable and barely-not portable air defences lack an effective ceiling to protect against strike aircraft that can detect, identify and engage with great precision from well above 15,000 ft altitude. Old school battlefield air defences such as the German Cold War systems Gepard and Roland can still push the opposing air power up, but then they can't do anything about it. Lock-on after launch/NLOS capability means that area air defences don't even need such short range complements; they can engage targets at low and lowest altitudes by themselves now.

Long story short; I'm in favour of introducing AMRAAM-ER as brigade-level air defences, launched by a MRL with a 360° traverse and +90/-0° elevation (minimum +60°/+10° elevation**).

AMRAAM-ER combines the ESSM's rocket motor (which is optimised for ground launch, unlike AMRAAM's) with AMRAAM's active radar seeker. The development costs till introduction into service could be limited to a tolerable level, and the costs per missile would be somewhat but not necessarily too much greater than for an equivalent seeker AMRAAM. The employment of AMRAAM's seeker means that any further upgrades for it (such as an AESA antenna) could be transferred with less development costs than a stand-alone design. AMRAAM-ER will likely be the best choice for brigade-level air defence against high value air targets until ESSM Block II is available.
An imaging infrared seeker missile would be a good complement, in order to mitigate the risk that AMRAAM's seeker may be defeated by countermeasures. IRIS-T SL would be the natural choice for Germany, but I suppose VL MICA IR is the better choice overall.

The launcher should be modular, mounted on a MULTI / EPLS rack, so many different platform vehicles (15 ton 8x8) are available AND it could be dropped on the ground (with its own power supply and secure digital radio). It could also be picked up by a tracked  and protected MULTI / EPLS vehicle, of course. Ideally, the 15 ton 8x8 MULTI vehicle would be able to disguise itself as a much lower-value container-carrying vehicle. The launcher rack could hydraulically-folding walls to achieve this. Long-range radar sensors could then not tell it apart from ordinary logistics vehicles.

I suppose the computer & control tasks could be handled with laptops and a radio kit (with LINK 16 mode) from within the vehicle's cabin. We would not need additional dedicated command & control vehicles or containers to add the air defence role to such MRL-carrying 8x8 vehicles.

The very same launcher could also be used to launch many other munitions, of course:
  • a 499 km PGM with HE warhead (~LRPF, MTCR-compliant by having a lighter than 500 kg warhead)
  • a 70-100 km PGM with HE warhead (P44, GUMRLS)
  • a 200-300 mm calibre short range (~10 km) rocket with thermobaric warhead
  • a 160 mm rocket with HE warhead and trajectory correction, range similar to SPGs
  • a 127 mm rocket with HE warhead (most efficient dumb munition in weight and volume)
  • a cargo rocket with smart AT mines 
  • a cargo rocket with leaflets
  • drones that lack an undercarriage (including decoy and RF jammer drones)
  • air-to-air missiles phased out by the air force in favour of better ones, also current missile types
  • surface-to-air missiles phased out by the navy (except SARH guidance) in favour of better ones, also current missile types
I mentioned dumb munitions in this list; not all warfare is mobile warfare, that's why. The dumb rounds would make much sense in the reduction of pockets.

- - - - -

Think about this; opposing forces could never know how much of the brigades' air defences they have knocked out because there would be no fixed amount of such air defences. 
Every brigade would have its ~50 km radius umbrella of air defences around every launcher, and with some dispersion the battalion battlegroups, the support elements and even some part of a main supply route could be protected against air attack to some degree.
The expenses would be largely limited to the launcher racks (about a million € per copy) and the missiles (might be less than a million € per copy for AMRAAM-ER). 200 launchers & 2,000 such air defence missiles could make a huge difference in Eastern Europe, and the program cost would be about two billion Euros in addition to what's being spend on MRLs anyway.
The air forces would need fewer missiles carried in the air (fewer per fighter and/or fewer fighters), as they could call on surface-to-air missiles of quite forward-located ground forces at least on defensive missions. They could themselves stay at a safe distance to the threat. This support would give the own side a substantial geographical advantage in defensive air warfare, which allows to make do with less fighters on defensive missions (or rather less distraction of fighters by defensive missions).
Opposing air forces would need to defeat two very different seeker types (which are the dominant air combat missile seeker types) to enable air attacks without expensive standoff PGMs or prohibitive attrition rates.
The crews and the launcher racks could shift their focus to the classic MRL role of area fires in support of  ground forces once the (few) expensive PGMs are expended and the threat of air attack much-degraded by successful air warfare. They could also focus more on the air defence mission if the air warfare went poorly (such as after surprise strikes by cruise missiles on air bases on day one). They could even use the air force's inventory of air-to-air missiles if the air force lost most of its fighters without expending many missiles.

This versatility means that a launcher couldn't do all missions at the same time, but its purpose could be adapted to the situation.

Such a launcher could establish itself as a more widespread and more important standard than the MLRS pods, which would greatly lower the bar for new PGM and rocket-assisted launch drones. These would not require any dedicated vehicle, but could be introduced into the forces with little more than a software update and some technical manuals. This could help keeping the forces' edge sharp at acceptable expenses.

- - - - -

I suppose that well-budgeted Western ground forces brigades should have a minimum of a dozen such MRL racks, with additional such racks as corps-level assets and in storage as a national attrition reserve. Less well-budgeted NATO brigades could enjoy support from such an air defence umbrella, particularly in fluid mobile warfare where adversaries would not know where the umbrellas end.

It would be a much more convincing concept than to keep MLRS with its few usable munitions, slavishly obeying organisational inertia. The current path-dependent force structures are lacking a good case for their weak MRL components and the all-too-often de facto absent battlefield air defences.
You may feel uneasy about the lack of organic sensors for air defence, but that's a topic for a different blog post.


P.S.: Needless to say, I was never a fan of MEADS or TLVS.

*: There's no point in preparing for wars of aggression, and aggressors are usually confident in their relative military power. This confidence is usually enough based in reality for them to really be a powerful adversary - nothing like Westerners beating up Arabs.

**: The elevation range may be reduced in the sector of the cabin.

The "modular" racket

I have a couple texts planned that have "modules" as commonality. I'd like to push this remark on "modular" approaches first, to clarify that I'm not fooled by the usual racket.

Armed services often lie and deceive to politicians and the public when it comes to "modular" approaches because they hardly ever purchase many more modules than fit on dedicated platforms. Thus very few if any "modular" approaches actually benefit from the theoretical ability to swap out one module for another to suit the platform for a different missions. Swapping modules is even impractical in some "modular" approaches.
The typical outcome looks more like '10% more modules than fit onto the platforms were purchased', while a sensible surplus would rather be in the range of 100%-500%, depending on the program.




"Majority of terrorists who have attacked America are not Muslim, new study finds"

independent.co.uk, Mythili Sampathkumar

"Right-wing extremists, often white supremacists, were responsible for 115 incidents within the same period. Events like Robert Dear’s killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood women's health clinic in December 2015 for offering abortion services would fall into this category.  In terms of police action, 76 per cent of the Islamist incidents were thwarted versus just 35 per cent of the right-wing extremist incidents.  Sting operations were used in nearly half of the Islamist-related incidents, a rate four times higher than police operations on right and left-wing extremist acts."

Keep in mind "sting operations" are under criticism because they may provoke people into becoming terrorists who would not have done anything like that without such motivation by the FBI. The statistic may thus be inflated by "sting" ops.

"More people died in the Islamist incidents, a total of 90 due to mass shootings like the one in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. However, around 33 per cent of right-wing extremist incidents involved deaths versus 13 per cent of Islamist terror acts. They also caused 79 deaths."

The notion that Islamic jihad ideology terrorism is much more lethal is actually widespread, and evidently wrong. The attention paid (most of the time, not these few days) is also out of proportion regarding the lethality.

"The evidence appears to belie Donald Trump’s rhetoric, however.  The report said that Mr Trump’s “fixation” on “radical Islamic terrorism” is “irrational”."

It is, and that's important. Such evidence reveals who has the capacity to understand the real world & its problems and potentially devise and enact solutions to problems, or exploit opportunities for progress - and who's easily mislead by prejudice, feelings and/or ideology. It's a marker for the difference between a politician who may be of great use to his people (who these people are is another issue) and a politician who's no better than the figurative drunk ranting uncle at the family barbecue.
Ideally, we get to observe politicians in positions of little power (such as sub-national legislatures, as mayors et cetera) where we can weed out the bad ones, then they gain additional experience and exposure as national-level politicians where we can weed out even more so we have a certain pool to choose from for the highest national-level and supranational offices of great power. Populists who propel entirely untested "charismatic" politicians and their followers into highest offices lack this multi-level vetting, just as do 'shooting stars' in established parties who rise too quickly due to help of some top politicians.
The aforementioned vetting by the public is far from perfect, but still better than nothing.

Even reformist / populist parties should march through the political instances slowly - there's hardly ever a crisis so bad that a slow (~4-8 years) advance would be too slow. In fact, they may have the most thorough success if they are particularly slow (~10-20 years) as were the greens in Germany, who achieved participation in a national-level cabinet for the first (and so far only) time after almost two decades. By then their original environmental protection focus had affected the policies of other parties; they had achieved most of their original aims without being in power.
They also had some extremely questionable personalities and political viewpoints in their early years, which they now regret. This went as far as tolerance for pedophiles. In hindsight, them advancing to national level power in the early 80's would not have been a good thing. They had not weeded out their misfits. The AfD (new right wing party) of today was even overwhelmed by its misfits - now the vast majority of Germans seems to be glad that the AfD missed capturing national parliament seats months after its foundation.


*: Such as the former German minister of defence von Guttenberg, who shouldn't have made it past a town council level of responsibility.



[Fun] Now drive backwards!

(It would actually not matter all that much because such T-72/-80/-90 tanks
have a walking pace-like maximum reverse speed).

In case your browser cannot show the video; link.


Blogger issues

Weird things are happening with new comments now (the list of comments awaiting moderation is empty even though I receive e-mail notification of a new comment), so don't think too much about it if your comment doesn't appear quickly or at all.



Morale, endurance and the budget

Lightweight equipment isn't enough to keep dismounted combat troops from becoming too exhausted for their missions. Let's think about other factors;
  • selection and allocation of suitable recruits*
  • physical fitness
  • cohesion (including good enlisted-NCO relations)
  • sufficient (hot) food and water supply
  • prior training in enduring stress, exhaustion and adverse conditions *
  • sleep discipline*
  • good leadership
  • companion/mascot animals (especially dogs)*
  • comfortable clothing
  • protection from elements (suitable clothes, tent, use of buildings)
  • personal hygiene
  • replacement boots & clothes
  • uplifting moments
  • good CASEVAC and medical care
  • ideally daily communication with family (digital text messages as minimum)
Such things are relatively affordable and can thus be mastered by poor budget forces even though some high budget armed services fail at providing such favourable circumstances.
Military history shows that endurance under great stress is a hugely important determinant for battlefield success. Armies tend to become better at preparing troops for combat during wartime, and usually they pay more attention to the factors listed above than before war, unless they feel forced to cut training down in order to fill the ranks.

Such non-combat background issues are likely even more important than other pivotal questions such as:
  • Can we penetrate their tanks head-on? Can they do it?
  • Can we maintain our radio comms in face of their ECM? Can they do it?
  • Are our radio comms secure? Are theirs secure?
  • Who has air superiority? 
  • Do we need to ration fuel and munitions? Do they?
  • Do we have sufficient night vision? Do they?
  • Do we know where we are and where we are heading?
Overall, I think there clearly are diminishing returns from investment in land power quality. Improvements beyond getting the two lists above right will yield little additional benefits.**

A good approach for sufficient deterrence and defence on a tight budget would thus be to get such essentials right and keep ambitions in check for almost everything else. This would be a kind of Schwerpunkt applied on budgeting; get right what needs to be right, be frugal on luxuries.


*: These are the points at which the German Heer fails as far as I know, but I am not an active soldier and really only have an outsider's vantage point these days.
**: Plus effective artillery support, but I'd exclude air superiority and be satisfied with a good air defence instead.


A proposal for infantry modernisation

I wrote a summary post on soldier (infantry) modernisation programs back in 2009. Such programs range from simply new clothes, helmet, guns and night vision equipment up to super-ambitious 'electronic infantryman' approaches with helmet-mounted display, camera on the rifle, lots of wearable computer tech if not even exoskeletons.

The components are usually not ready for introduction at the same time, so whatever hardware finds its way from development into service does so in a trickling fashion. The procurement agencies have fancy buzzwords ("increment" and so on) for this, as if it was perfectly compatible with the ambition of having one big modernisation program.

That's actually something I'd like to see changed; I don't want to see "one big modernisation program", regardless of how many phases, increments, cycles et cetera it has.
I would like to see the different programs of allies competing in troops testing with realistic and at most partially scripted mock battles. I'd also like to see a competing infantry modernisation program in the same major nation as one of those 'electronic infantryman' programs - and they, too, should compete. I'd like to see - in troops testing mock battles - the concept of agile lightweight-equipped infantry tested against the concept of 'electronic infantry'. Agility and mobility versus more communication, more night vision, more digital maps.
These mock battles should include scenarios with heavy ECM influences.

It's striking that while program managers pay lip service to lightweight products, no infantry modernisation program (the 2009 list is outdated, obviously) appears to focus on reducing the weight of equipment and NOT considering those weight savings as potential for additional equipment.

There's very little insight to be gained by yet another 'electronic infantryman' program, but much insight could be gained by pitting those against a properly lightened load infantry for a change. Besides, the lightened load equipment would be hugely relevant to non-infantry troops as well (while with conventional programs that's mostly limited to clothing), and they comprise well over 2/3 of a deployed army!


A doomsday timeline

There's one old (German, 1985)  book on late Cold War issues - especially nuclear war - that impressed and no doubt also influenced me much. For German readers; ISBN-3-922508-33-2. It appears to be a translation of a Scientific American publication.

The most interesting page of it is about the timeline of a hypothetical Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S.. This surprise first strike scenario includes submarine-launched missiles launched from not far off the East Coast and a huge ICBM strike. It's interesting because the timeline shows how illusory the idea of an immediate retaliation (before ICBM silos were hit) was, and how very much the nuclear deterrence rested on the ability to command and execute a second strike well after that first strike.

long exposure photo of an ICBM test

I referred to this timeline several times in discussions over the past and now that I rediscovered the book in my way too big private library I will reproduce it here. Next time I refer to the timeline I can simply drop a link to this.

first few seconds:
coordinated launch of hundreds of ICBMs from Soviet silos as well as 4 to 5 SLBMs from a SSBN off the coast

after 2 minutes:
first transmission of attack warnings by satellite-based infrared sensors and early warning radar chain

after 2 to 7 minutes:
period available (5 minutes) for decisionmaking and ordering of a non-disrupted "launch under attack"
after 7 minutes:
exoatmospheric explosions of 4 to 5 SLBM warheads over the North American continent (about one Megaton TNTeq each at abut 480 km altitude); likely damage in U.S. landline and radio communication devices by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by the exoatmospheric explosions

after 8 minutes:
latest possible time for arrival of the order for retaliation attacks in command centers in order to complete the launch procedures in time before x-ray radiation becomes too intense for launching missiles

after 8 1/2 to 21 minutes:
launches of additional SLBMs (then still too inaccurate to defeat ICBM silos, launches delayed to maintain surprise)

after 10 minutes:
last possible moment for launching ICBMs to avoid damages by intense x-ray radiation during flight at high altitudes

after 12 minutes:
first probable confirmation of the ICBM attack by BMEWS radar

after 12 to 15 minutes:
available period to make the decision for a retaliation strike after confirmation by BMEWS radar (x-ray issues may not be avoided any more, ICBM counterattack may fail partially or entirely)

after 14 to 27 minutes:
explosions of thermonuclear warheads of SLBM missiles above ICBM silos to suppress them with x-ray radiation (waves of explosions with one minute spacing)

after 15 to 21 minutes:
required period to relay the launch orders through emergency communications

after 21 minutes:
last possible time for the retaliation launch orders to complete launches prior to thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads close to the ground

after 24 minutes:
last possible time to avoid damages by thermonuclear explosions during the boost phase

after 25 to 30 minutes:
first thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads at U.S. ICBM silos

One can see the concerns about detection delays, suppression of communications, damages to ICBMs by x-ray radiation and damages to ICBMs by nearby thermonuclear explosions. Launches from the 31st to the 50th minute would furthermore face the problem that the (few?) surviving and 100% functioning missiles would need to rise through the dust and debris clouds of those explosions.

The attackers would have their own set of problems, mostly with reliability, dispersion and the difficulty to place multiple warheads on one target without the first explosion and its effects causing harm to the later strikes on the same target. One missile per silo would yield an unsatisfactory probability of silo destruction due to the reliability and dispersion issue.

The whole scenario did not include a first strike on the SLBM force or nuclear warheads in relatively dispersed storage. The easily-destroyed strategic bomber force was ignored as well (think of it as easy prey for SLBMs).

In the end, the wargames and operational research showed that both an immediate retaliation was unrealistic AND a satisfactory disarmament in a first strike was unrealistic. This may have kept the peace in the 70's and 80's.

The issues of the scenario did no doubt change in the meantime. The sensors used were changed, and more importantly SLBMs could have been upgraded with satellite navigation (GPS, GLONASS), so the entire attack could be completed within 8-9 minutes with an all-SLBM strike. The Cold War ended just in time before this became a practical possibility.



"Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens"

There's an old (2014) study about the alignment of actual policy with the desires of interest groups in the United States, and I meant to write something smart about it for years. Sadly, I found no particularly smart comment in face of so much obviousness.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, 2014

Essentially, voting doesn't matter there. Money, affinity fraud, socio-ethnic group identity (old white rich men) and networks appear to be in power constantly.

It's sad that the attempts to break this system pushed hardly competent and benevolent champions for change to the better into high office. To elect a self-proclaimed billionnaire known for selfishness strikes me as the most stupid possible attempt at ending this gilded age.



2,000 blog posts

This blog has reached 2,000 blog posts, and I'll use this figure for some celebration after sleeping over the 10 year anniversary in May, 2017. (Nobody reminded me! -.- )

I'm still on my mission:
  1. Promote peace.
  2. Push back against the encroaching of authoritarian features in Western societies, especially Germany.
  3. Warn about mediocrity and complacency, an unsatisfactory state of affairs in regard to Western military forces armed bureaucracies.
  4. Share interesting or amusing stuff
... though I admit I somewhat neglected #2 and #4 recently.

By the way, as part of #1 I guest-blogged once more:

ASPI - The Strategist blog


Split trail howitzer carriages and hyped weapons in general

I have pointed out that split trail howitzer carriages have a responsiveness problem beyond their (no more than 62°) traverse. They lack the unlimited 360° traverse because of their carriage. The split trail carriage was a huge improvement over the box trail when introduced in the Déport gun, but it's no good if you need to respond to a call for fires outside of the ~60° traverse. A well-drilled team takes about two minutes to lift up an otherwise well-designed split trail carriage tail and turn it around for a fire mission beyond the previous traverse. For comparison; a self-propelled howitzer with a 360° traverse turret may execute a 3 round fire mission on the target and redeploy by hundreds of metres in those two minutes.
There have been platforms used (in times long gone) to give box trail carriage guns a 360° traverse, for example the Arbel platform. The British 25 pdr gun of WW2 fame was such an example. This solution isn't a good one either. The platform adds a lot of weight, slows down deployment and redeployment and mobile platforms of this kind do not transfer the recoil force into the ground. That's still being done by the tail of the carriage, typically some spade.

And this is one more problem if you need to turn around your gun like that. Look at 1:25 of this video:

You can see how the spades are not fully embedded in the soft soil until after the first shot. Thus either you have to accept several seconds additional delay between 1st and 2nd shot (which ruins the surprise effect on the target and makes HE fires much less effective) or you have to shoot a charge without a shell arriving at the target, only to produce enough recoil force to set the gun. This adds additional seconds to the two minutes mentioned above.

Let me explain why this is so important; I wrote in several of my articles on infantry tactics and survivability that infantry should move or even break contact within 2 (at most 4) minutes of being detected by opposing forces. The reason is that opposing forces' indirect fires may arrive after such a short delay. Very competent readio-networked artillery with SPGs, electronic fire coordination, not too far away, minimal if any deconfliction requirements and can deliver a devastating multiple round multiple firing position simultaneous (within seconds) impact fire mission that quickly. The state of the art squeezes infantry into such tight limits; two, at most four minutes to pull off what they ought to do, then move or die. Poor quality armies may take 10 or 15 minutes to do the same, but one shouldn't orient yourself against such opposition; they won't dare to attack NATO anyway.
Now imagine our arty has an additional, unnecessary delay of two minutes on many fire missions. This may easily halve the quantity of elusive infantry platoons that they can catch. It wouldn't matter against cumbersome and poorly led infantry, but again, arty officers who intend to prepare against those only would have pursued the wrong career.

It needs be mentioned that split trail guns also take painfully much time to redeploy compared to self-propelled guns, making them much less suitable for shoot & scoot high survivability drills (= unsuitable, sitting duck targets).

Few modern armies still use many such towed, split trail carriage howitzers. They're mostly in use as helicopter-portable light guns for airborne forces, as artillery ordnance for reserve forces or in the U.S.Army. The U.S. Army failed to develop or accept a proper and already developed self-propelled gun for its 'medium' ("Stryker") brigades, and is still stuck with these towed howitzers. They even want to increase the range of the M777 (which has the barrel length and range of 1970's howitzers of its calibre), that's how much they're invested in the M777's basic design.

WW2-style howitzer with split trail (and a gunshield)
German WW2 experiences led to requirements for howitzers
with 360° traverse and about 70° maximum elevation.
Only the increase of maximum elevation became a
dominant design choice post-WW2 save for the
Soviet 122 mm D-30 and a Swedish howitzer.
I consider this an example of how hyping and overhyping weapon systems and military procurement programs can badly hurt an armed service. The M777 was hyped for years because it was new, it was American, and it was made with expensive alloys to cut down weight (supposedly to allow UH-60 helicopters to lift it, which is hardly ever done). It did not deserve any praise. The weight reduction served no real purpose to its current users but inflated costs. The dispersion is not extraordinary good compared to other modern howitzers, the attached muzzle velocity radar is nothing extraordinary for new arty guns either and the range is stuck in the 1970's. Still, there was about a decade of hype for this gun.

This hype has blinded the public; hardly ever do I read any harsh criticism of the obsolete towed split trail approach. Sure, the Taliban and other "light infantry, motorcycle & technicals" opposing forces were not able to overmatch the M777, but they would have failed to overmatch a WW2 howitzer as well. A modern conventional land power ('peer enemy') such as the Russian army could do so easily, especially in mobile warfare. They don't even need to be able to operate counter-artillery radars; old school flash spotting and sound ranging still work and they even develop new devices for it, and the M777's relatively poor range makes it more susceptile to this than the longer-ranged 52cal 155 mm SPGs are.

The organic artillery of the light and medium brigade combat teams of the U.S.Army and of the USMC is poor, and the hype blinded the nation to it so the weakness lasts. Higher level support artillery (MLRS) doesn't compensate for this; the U.S. did not sign the cluster munitions ban, but it's still getting rid of its ICM/DPICM munitions. There are no unguided HE rockets for MLRS.

A nation should avoid hyping military hardware, period. It serves no other purpose than entertainment, and that should NEVER be a purpose of the military. Hyping military hardware risks to cover up its weaknesses and thus inhibits actions that would mitigate or eliminate such weaknesses. This appears to be true regardless of insider experts understanding the true deficits.



North Korea and a pacifism litmus test

I consider myself a moderate pacifist, which means deterrence and defence - national or collective - is fine, though wastefulness in it is to be avoided. Wars of aggression and military adventures are not fine at all.

This doesn't seem all that pacifistic to radical pacifists, but it's already a far cry from most people who get involved in publishing blogs, journal articles, studies or books on war, "security policy" and military affairs in general.

The often months-long propaganda barrage that builds up political support for wars of aggression or major military adventures is a fine litmus test to see who's a true pacifist - moderate or not - and who's not. Many people who claim to be against war end up being fine with war if only it hits some vilified country or leader.
I suppose we would see just another such litmus test now and in the next months if only the Trump administration wasn't so incompetent and ineffective at communicating beyond a narrow base of pro-Trump extremists. That bunch would rather stumble into a war of aggression with less preparations than even a Neocon clique.

On the one hand this is regrettable, for the masks are not taken away from everyone, but on the other hand I'm really glad that no war prepared and launched by the West seems to be in the making.

I don't consider the crisis around North Korea as a prelude to a real war anyway; it's rather a build-up of tensions where Trump thinks he can bully someone else, and eventually he will likely seek a "deal" that he can communicate to his base (via Twitter, of course) as a successful "solution", regardless of how much the fine print will actually benefit NK.
The risk is in what happens if he doesn't get a deal to speak of, nor can make one up for a change.

The future is unpredictable, but when it comes to conflicts and arrogant, stupid leaders it may get very uncomfortable. This time without the slightest upside.