Narratives as sustainers of excessive military spending

Humans are lazy - physically and mentally. It used to be an evolutionary advantage, but it's not exactly helpful in today's complex societies which provide us with more than enough calorie supply.

One particular kind of mental laziness is that we don't question what we got used to - and humans can get used to almost anything.

There's a particular narrative about the USN that people got used to, and almost never question: The concept of forward deployment, of a rotation between repair in port/shipyard, transit, patrol in distant waters, transit, rinse and repeat.*
You can often read that such a cycle is normal - but it's a historical anomaly. Even the Royal Navy at its zenith from late 18th century till the 1930's had no such emphasis on patrol in distant waters (even disregarding that to the British Empire hardly any waters were distant). Frigates and later preferably old cruisers patrolled the empire's maritime lanes and their sailors doubled as auxiliary marines (even siege or field artillerymen) when the need arose on land. Their battlefleet was mostly and typically at home in peacetime (and during the age of sail usually not manned in peacetime). 

By contrast, the USN insists that the only way to operate for itself is to patrol in lots of very distant waters with carrier battlegroups and marine expeditionary groups. 
This weird modus operandi is of great consequence, for it drives the "need" for fleet size. One third in port, one third in transit, one third on station - that's the rule of thumb and of course there are somewhat more complicated calculations as well. What matters is that such a way to calculate the "needed" fleet size has no systemic link to what fleet size is actually needed to "win" a war at sea or to deter war. The PR China is not going to be deterred by one or two carriers cruising in range of its land-based assets; those would be sunk by a surprise strike as was the Force Z. To have those one or two carriers deployed that distant, close to Chinese forces, means less deterrence than to have them mothballed on the East Coast. So the rotation rule of thumb isn't even of use for determining the fleet size needed for deterrence.

Carrier air power is ridiculously expensive,
and easily substituted for by land-based air power within 1,500 km of friendly land bases
So the USN has an arbitrary modus operandi that drives its "requirements" for ship hull quantities (at least carriers, amphibious warfare ships and fleet escorts). This has become a dominant narrative that almost everyone is too lazy put into question.
This narrative has a built-in lever of factor three, which greatly helps those who want an ever bigger fleet. You want a single additional destroyer for a carrier group off China? That means you need 3 more active destroyers.

This isn't exclusive to the USN or the United States. Some people think that Germany needs mountain infantry because we have some mountains (more like a good view at mountains, really) - well, we don't need them (= regular infantry battalions instead would be better). Switzerland doesn't need to be deterred and there's little mountainous terrain in Eastern Europe (the Romanians can provide mountain infantry for the Carpathians themselves - they can afford it much more easily than mechanised forces). The Turks have mountains, but I'm not so sure they're still real allies and they have plenty infantry of their own.

Germany had a navy since its unification in 1871 with a short 10-year break after WW2. Everyone seems to be used to the narrative that a navy belongs to armed forces if a country isn't tiny and has ports. Well, no. A navy belongs into the armed forces only if it serves a purpose that's of greater value than its costs. No German navy has ever done so.

There are also highly positive exceptions: New Zealand -thousands of nautical miles away from the next country that could turn into a threat within a generation- disbanded its marginal combat aircraft fleet years ago. This badly hurt those New Zealanders who go by their guts in military affairs, but guess what? Nobody blockaded, bombed or invaded New Zealand so far, and there's no change to this in sight.

gone without replacement, nothing bad happened = evidence they were unnecessary

Narratives play a huge role in fortifying high military spending. Military spending-supportive narratives are very often found to be wrong once tested, though.
The U.S.Army got busy in Iraq and degraded in its conventional warfare capabilities by a focus on COIN - and not a single war broke out. Evidently, the U.S.Army of 2002 was much larger than necessary to keep peace in the 2000s.
New Zealand got rid of its combat aircraft and was neither blockaded nor bombed nor invaded - those combat aircraft were unnecessary for keeping the peace.
Greece largely crashed its military budget despite its stupid little Cold War with Turkey - and nothing happened.
Likewise, great increases in military spending such as under the GWB administration failed to make the world more peaceful or safer.

Our societies could advance much if we would muster the mental effort and diligence to question narratives that support a high allocation of resources. This goes beyond military spending, but I focused on it because of the theme of this blog.
The more we question narratives the more we will discover and exploit potentials for savings, the more resources become available for reallocation. This would make our societies 'vital' like societies with fast-growing economies; we could address unsolved challenges (energy, health issues) or prepare for the future by restructuring (such as by a reduction of public debt) or investing in more research, education or infrastructure.


*: Here's a possible alternative modus operandi or the surface fleet: Battle fleets based in Pearl Harbor, San Diego and Norfolk and prepared to cruise to anywhere at 18-23 kts on short notice with fast replenishment ship support. Training ships do annual voyages around the world (this helps recruitment drive). One ad hoc group doing exercises with European allies and another one with Asian/Australian ones. Occasionally one ship gets detached and sent off to participate in some peaceful maritime event of some friendly or neutral country.


Patterns of propaganda for higher military spending

A recent post deconstructed a propaganda article that argued for a larger U.S.Navy.
This time I will stay more general and more abstract and present the general patterns of propaganda for higher military spending.

Appeal to (tainted) authority
It's a general pattern, but most obvious in the United States where calls for more naval and air power are often supported by the claim that combatant commanders have called for more forces. 
You should never ask a child about what's the right amount of toys when you're in a toy store, so why would one ask the combatant commander about how many ships and fighters he should have?

Use of faux legal reasons for more military spending
The most widespread one is the "2% GDP military spending in NATO obligation" myth. There's no such obligation, just a memo that has no force as it was written by politicians lacking the authority to dictate the budget policies of their countries.
Proponents of higher military spending love such faux legal reasons, and it appears that they are the driving force behind the creation of such faux legal arguments. Such faux legal reasons have an air of inevitability, of obligation and duty - and you don't need any more reasons once you have an obligation. Except there's never any such obligation.
Inflationary use of the world "ally"
This is a close relative to the faux legal reason deception. Lots of more or less politically friendly countries get called allies that need be defended - often including countries such as Taiwan and Israel, which definitely are NOT allies of the United States. Neither would come to aid the U.S. if it was under attack. Military spending hawks pretend that there's an obligation to provide security assistance and reassurance (by presence) to such countries even if and though there's no such obligation.

Never mention allies as a factor that reduces the need for national military strength
Unless their think tank's sponsors want to sell weapons to said allies and the article is all about pressuring them to increase their military spending.

Alliances don't reduce the need for high military spending: Alliance obligations justify high military spending!
This is a close relative to the former and the faux legal reasons thing. In reality, to have an ally means that you need less national military strength.

Threat inflation
The description of the Russian as emerging and generally as scary as in the deconstructed article is quite typical. Sometimes such military spending hawks even pretended that Venezuela is a threat.

Not a single word about cost efficiency
What they want is never cost-efficient, thus they don't talk about cost efficiency.

Avoiding to irritate anyone
Those are smart influencers and lobbyists. They do not draw the ire of any political interest group needlessly. You'll hardly ever hear or read them going on an attack against wasteful spending*, wrong hawkish doctrines or them singling out an armed service for its failures (unless they get funded by interest groups with no interest in that particular armed service).
They do not criticise troops or question the quality of training, either. The reason is that troops and those who sympathise with them are compliant and free opinion multipliers to the military budget hawks.

Guaranteed careers
No matter how often their advice was disastrous to the nation, their careers are secured. The only career-ending move would be to become less hawkish or politically ineffective.

Appeal to primitive instincts
There's no complicated reasoning in their propaganda. It's more on the level of "Ugh! My clan is stronger! Ugh!"

To bomb some huts on a distant continent is "defense".

Never mentioning civilian alternatives to spending
The opportunity costs of military spending are never mentioned.

Never promote the purchase of all-foreign hardware
That is, unless the foreign company sponsors their think tank or a domestic arms industry giant is the sales partner.

Unlimited extremism
There's never enough. The ability to force one's way deep into the airspace of huge countries on a different continent or to force one's way into the coastal waters on a distant ocean is "defense" to them. There's no such thing as a "2 power standard" or any other kind-of-moderate idea in their arsenal. Nothing short of the ability to conquer the world would be sufficient military strength to them. And then they would want to conquer space next. Scratch that. They would want a military to conquer space in parallel to conquering the planet.

The rule of the Friedman unit
Military spending hawks are always proponents of the Friedman unit in times of war: Always give the military six more months to turn around the war. Six months later, give them six more months. Rinse and repeat. Making peace is acceptable only if maximalist objectives are met. Then the success would be used to promote the next war(s).

Fixation on platforms
This is a bit weird; military contractors sure make much profit with spare parts, munitions, maintenance and other services, but military spending hawks are obsessed about platforms and other nominal and quantitative measurements of military power. The rationale appears to be that the other expenditures follow the acquisition and operation of the platforms.

They do rarely discuss personnel increases compared to big ticket hardware buys
...because the economic interests behind them are about procurement, not employment. This is a variation of the fixation on platforms, of course.
They are utterly silent about veteran's care
This is a close relative to the fixation on platforms. Hospitals aren't among the sponsors of military-focused think tanks.
Movement within an established mainstream narrative
You won't read much original stuff from military spending hawks. They use an established mainstream narrative and enjoy its support. Most commonly, they make lots of assertions that are accepted by the mainstream regardless of how badly their thread to reality is severed.

They're pro-war on first opportunity
They know but one tool; a hammer. The world is covered with nails.

They haven't served in a major war.
Almost all military spending hawks are chickenhawks. A few of them served in the military, but I'm not aware of a single one of them having been in the midst of a mess that a war usually is.

They know but one answer: "more"
Sometimes they set goals for military strength. All such goals are but preliminary, though: Once reached, they want more. Always more. They don't know optimisation - they're all about maximisation.

Military spending hawks have almost never a good case for their recommendations. There's rarely a good case that more spending will reduce the risk of war, and it's outright impossible with the state of the economic sciences to make up a legitimate projection that an increase in military spending will be cost-efficient. The input variables are simply unknown.
Military budget hawks thus have to use logical fallacies, lies, nonsensical narratives and deception instead of rational arguments for their recommendations.
Many military spending hawks in the United States (where military spending is insanely high) are professional propagandists with a guaranteed career. Those with economic interests in higher military spending do sponsor such propagandists more or less directly. Other military spending hawks are politicians who represent a region with much arms industry. That's why the U.S. senator was listed as one author of the deconstructed piece, and that's why additional useless corvettes for the German navy were proposed recently. Such politicians raise special (regional) interests over national interests; they fail one decisive litmus test for patriotism.

It should be disqualifying, a career-ending event if one is revealed as such a military spending hawk. Such one trick ponies are utterly useless and indeed terribly damaging to their society.
Sadly, they make careers of such worthless commentary and the press & TV stations treat them as very serious people.


*: A few pundit-for-hire types do deviate: They build a faux "balanced" reputation by criticizing certain military programs. Those criticised programs are invariably from competitors of their sponsors.


A deconstruction of MICC propaganda

I will deconstruct an article about the U.S.Nayy as the military-industrial-congressional complex propaganda that it is, to show how badly it's removed from reality. That article is not really outside the mainstream, or original - it's really nothing extraordinary. Extraordinary would be an article that's firmly rooted in the real world, as opposed to fantasyland.

I do not provide many links to support my assertions here, though I did write about most things here before. Feel encouraged to do your own research on a topic if you disagree with anything I present here as fact.

"How to Make the U.S. Navy Great Again"
By Roger Wicker & Jerry Hendrix

Roger Wicker is a U.S. senator and chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower. Dr. Jerry Hendrix is the director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.

So one of them is an influential politician from Mississippi (home of Ingalls shipbuilding) with some focus on military affairs and the other is a professional military spending promoter.

(1) "It is imperative that America’s fleet reach 355 ships within the next ten years."

Obviously, they don't even come close to properly support this with arguments. It takes a reading of the whole thing to see this absence, of course.

(2) "American maritime interests have evolved beyond simply protecting freedom of navigation."

The last time the U.S. focused on freedom of navigation as maritime interest was in 1917, and the attempt to enforce it by violence led to much bloodshed and expense, while (counter to supposed intent) further degrading the  safety at sea till war's end.
"Freedom of navigation" has been nothing but a pretence to bully small powers (Libya) and provoking China. Never has the USN enforced freedom of navigation neutrally. It has violently disrespected the freedom of navigation of Iranian ships even and especially while Iran was under attack by a tyrannical Iraqi government.

The current USN structure is a force that's focused on strategic nuclear deterrent and land attack-optimised carrier strike groups. There's practically no capacity for securing coastal U.S. or transoceanic civilian traffic (convoys) without neglecting the security of the land-attack carriers.
The assertion that U.S. maritime interests were focused on freedom of navigation until recently is utter bollocks; a symptom of delusion or a lie.

(3) "The United States faces not one, but two emerging naval powers—Russia and China—challenging its maritime dominance."

Well, there's not much of an operational Russian navy, it certainly is worth less than the sum of the navies allied to the U.S.. "emerging naval power" doesn't exactly describe Russia accurately, either. The authors are inflating a threat for a fake justification of their later promotion of more naval spending.

(4) "Though our sailors and Marines remain second to none (...)"

This was published a few months after the USN published its accounts of why two destroyers were badly damaged in collisions due to utter incompetence and negligence of their bridge crews.

(5) "(...)the condition of the fleet has deteriorated as the need for naval power has far outstripped the supply of available ships."

No. The condition of the fleet has deteriorated as the size and activity of the fleet has far outstripped the available operations & maintenance budget (hollow force syndrome). That's something the U.S. senator might have been able to do more about.
A correct diagnosis would have led to the obvious option of reducing the active fleet or its activity (mission) to match the operations and maintenance budget. That's not what the authors want; they want a bigger fleet, so they provide an incorrect cause for the deterioration.
Besides, I doubt these authors have the slightest idea what the true "need for naval power" really is.

(6) "(...)the United States must engage in a long-term, aggressive campaign to build a larger and more capable battle fleet in order to deter rising competitors, head off a potential arms race and prevent a destabilizing of the international environment."

The shipyard industry situation (the U.S. has almost no shipbuilding capacity compared to China, South Korea and Japan) reveals this as a hollow phrase. No matter how many warships the U.S. builds, the Chinese can simply build more. To call for more warship-building is thus the most primitive, most wasteful and outright most stupid option.
Moreover, Mr. U.S. Senator should probably work to revise the war powers act and curb cruise missile diplomacy as well as work to prevent wars of aggression like OIF if he's truly interested in "prevent[ing] a destabilization of the international environment".

(7) "It is U.S. law that the Navy achieve its stated minimum force-structure requirement of 355 ships."

Maybe, but budget laws are more specific regarding shipbuilding, and the more specific law beats the more general law. Military spending mongers just love such faux legal reasons for more military spending. See the legal nonsense about "2% GDP" spending in NATO.

(8) "Yet it is important to remember the significance of the oceans and inland freshwater Great Lakes for America’s economic prosperity. (...) Nearly 80 percent of U.S. export trade by tonnage moves over water, and 90 percent of general cargo moves via container ships."

See what they did here? "export trade by tonnage" - that's an unusual way to measure export or import. They cherrypicked this because a look at trade by currency units reveals that air freight and digital communications make up a fascinatingly large share of trade, particularly for countries as weak in export industries as the United States. About 35% of global trade (by value) was by air freight in 2015 (and I've seen even higher stats than this). One third of U.S. exports in 2017 were services. These figures show how badly the authors have cherrypicked with manipulative intent, in order to inflate the importance of the navy.
Maritime trade is very important, but they were not satisfied with its true relevance; they meant to inflate its relevance.

(9) "Protecting freedom of navigation is thus a paramount U.S. interest. This core interest—manifested in unimpeded transit in international waters and access to foreign ports for commercial trade (...)"

That's not really what the USN is structured for, or what these authors want it to be structured for. They want a forward-deployed air/sea battle and land attack navy, not a maritime trade defence navy. That's the attitude that led to the massacre off the East Coast in 1942 when the USN wasn't interested in diverting destroyers from the Pacific to secure maritime trade in the Atlantic Ocean.
The USN's utter disinterest in minehunting further shows how little it's interested in this supposed "paramount U.S. interest". Notably, the authors did not criticise the MCM weakness.

(10) "(...) our maritime interests have evolved beyond simply securing the seas for commercial transportation."

Yeah, as "we totally lost interest in it, and really only pay lip service to it as if we were serious people".

(11) "Perhaps the most obvious, yet least appreciated, national interest at sea is the United States’ duty to uphold its obligations to allies."

Such as article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty? Oh, right, that's the obligation they prefer to ignore. Treaty obligations are for others, at home they're but relevant if they can be used as a legal excuse for more military spending.

(12) "While the United States will not start buying frigates until the 2020s, China is building a new frigate every six weeks. Vast numbers of these low-end ships will increasingly patrol China’s expanding front lines in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Backed by a growing arsenal of longer-range and more sophisticated air and missile weapons, the Chinese navy will have a highly capable and numerically larger maritime force by the middle of the next decade. If this situation comes to fruition, it could make the projection of U.S. naval power cost prohibitive in the western Pacific, undermining the credibility of our alliance commitments."

Wait, what? There is no real alliance commitment towards Taiwan. Sea lanes to Japan and South Korea can be secured by land-based air power against air and surface threats. This leaves mostly submarines as threats to these lanes that need be handled by ships (again, the USN doesn't really do convoys for cargo ships) and a little MRBM threat at least regarding South Korea. Their concern is a dud, for once again they do not really push for a ASW convoying capability.

(13) "(...) Vladimir Putin’s Russia is making a different strategic bet. Faced with a shrinking population (...)

That's a myth. Russian population growth figures for 2017 range from -0.08%  (CIA World Factbook) to  +0.05% (Russian figures). Their population is stagnant, not shrinking.

(14) "Extremely quiet, difficult to detect, and carrying a heavy load of torpedoes and antiship cruise missiles, one or two Yasens undetected in the Atlantic could effectively halt American efforts to provide relief to NATO allies."

Well, if that's so, then disband the USN for its utter incompetence and worthlessness. A navy of that size and with that budget ought to be able to defend against two submarines and their few dozen munitions in an ocean. That's not their conclusion, of course. And I doubt that they really believe what they claimed there.

(15) "Our adversaries and potential opponents are racing forward to develop A2/AD capabilities to create maritime “keep-out zones.”"

How dare they thinking they could legitimately seek the capability to defend themselves at home?!?
The supreme arrogance and extremism in the attitude of the authors is clearly on display here. It's a general problem in regard to U.S. military policy: The standard for what constituted enough "defense" for the U.S. is held so high (and budgets accordingly so wastefully high) that no other country on earth could possibly have a satisfactory defence for itself by the same standard.
There's something utterly corrupted in how Americans think about "defense".

(16) "By not maintaining a credible and persistent naval presence in the South China Sea, the United States invited China to create a “Great Wall of Sand”—a series of artificial islands that increasingly resemble military garrisons."

There's total absence of evidence for any causality between this. 

(17) "Russia has begun aggressive operations in the Baltic and Black Seas, seeking to intimidate U.S. Navy ships as well as those of allied and partner navies. The United States has offered no serious response to these provocations."

Flybys are a provocation and meant to intimidate only when the others do it. Whenever we do it we merely exercise our freedom of navigation in the air, of course. 
It should be noted that much of Baltic Sea freezes in wintertime due to low salinity. There's thus very little reason to believe in naval forces as a reliable contribution to deterrence and defence for the Baltics. These authors won't point that out, of course.

(18) "Lastly, despite a long-standing military requirement to maintain one carrier strike group continuously in the Arabian Gulf region, the ever-shrinking U.S. Navy has been forced to leave the region without a serious naval presence multiple times in recent years. Training and maintenance backlogs within the hollowed-out Navy have reduced the available carrier inventory to provide coverage to the Arabian Gulf. During these periods, Iran has ramped up its intimidation operations and actively sought to undermine the credibility of the United States and its partners in the region. In 2016, Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen had the audacity to conduct an unsuccessful missile attack against a U.S. warship, USS Mason."

Yemen isn't even close to the Arabian Gulf, thus a CVBG in the gulf would have done nothing about what happened off Yemen. They seem to rest their argument on the world-famous American knowledge about foreign geography.
Besides, isn't a carrier strike group in the gulf an intimidation operation towards Iran? The USN actively helped the aggressor Iraq top sustain its war of aggression against Iran in the 80's, remember? Remember the mass killing of civilians in an Iranian airliner (which was merely intended to be a murder of two Iranian military pilots during peacetime) and the violations of Iranian territorial waters by the USN?
As usual, it's only bad when the others do it.

(19) "The United States currently has a navy too small for the requirements of a great naval power."

Maybe I should just leave this here as evidence for their utter delusion or lying.

edit: The image link is broken, see this as replacement

(20) "The United States has critical national interests in eighteen maritime zones identified by warfighting commanders."

This is idiotic. The use of "critical" in this sentence doesn't match with "eighteen maritime zones" at all. To ask generals and admirals how many resources they need is utter idiocy. No admiral or general was ever truly content with his resources. They always want more.
Some not utterly tainted group of people with true national interests in mind need to determine the needs - not officers who first and foremost have the interests of their armed service in mind. (Egoistic self-interest can't be neutralised, but it helps to not ask those who get to play with toys about the right amount of toys.)
This is another popular trope of military budget mongers; ask the admirals and generals about what they need. They know that admirals and generals will always ask for more. Also, it's the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

(21) "The Navy certified the 355-ship requirement in its 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA). According to the FSA, the true number of ships required by military commanders exceeds 650 ships."

Of course, they don't notice that the absence of war and disaster utterly proves that FSA wrong.

(22) "Additionally, there are some ships recently transferred to the inactive ready reserve force, also called the “ghost fleet,” that could be brought quickly back into our service rather than being transferred to the navies of foreign partners."

Explain to me how the interests of the U.S. are better served if the U.S. pays for the operation of those ships instead of allies paying for the operation of those ships. It sounds to me as if only the USN's interests get better served by the authors' proposal. Well, theirs and maybe Ingalls gets some bucks for refurbishing those warships if they are in active USN service.

(23) "(...) and accelerate the development of the Navy’s newest frigates, in order to bring these low-cost (...) ships (...)"

Well, that's not delusion - that's an outright lie. 

(24) "The Navy has already begun this process by looking at mature foreign and domestic models, such as the Italian-designed FREMM and American-produced National Security Cutter, which have already been built and could easily be produced in numbers by American workers. These strategic approaches could convince both China and Russia that the United States is prepared to defend its interests at sea."

Not really (numbers) and not likely (China convinced).

(25) "ALONE AMONG the services, the Navy is always deployed."

That's incorrect. Forces of the other services are routinely stationed abroad as well. 

(26) "America cannot retreat from the seas."

Well, aside from the fact that it can - that's a strawman. Even halving the USN would merely turn it into the 2nd largest navy among more than a hundred countries, and combined with allied forces it would still be capable of beating the largest one. Thus even  reducing the USN by half would be far from a "retreat from the seas".

(27) "China, Russia and Iran have invested heavily in ways to keep the U.S. Navy out of critical maritime regions."

Yeah, that's called "defence policy". They kind of believe they have the right to be concerned about their ability to make use of maritime trade, too (especially China).
You know what's not called "defence policy"? It's not "defence policy" if you aren't satisfied with your navy until it can force its way anywhere on the oceans, even within 20 nm of hostile land masses.
Such is the difference between "defence policy" and "defense policy".

(28) "China, Russia and Iran have invested heavily in ways to keep the U.S. Navy out of critical maritime regions. They are increasingly challenging American maritime interests and finding no response. The inability to respond is driven by a collapse in the size of U.S. naval forces over the past quarter century."

So again, the USN appears to be utterly incompetent and worthless, given its relative size and costs. Let's disband it then.
Or maybe - just maybe - a navy isn't the right tool, and not every challenge is a nail?

(29) "Our adversaries and potential opponents see all of this as an indicator of overall national decline (...)"

Trust me; in the age of Trump no-one is looking at the USN as a symptom of decline of the United States as a great power, Western country or civilised country. Everyone's too focused on the actually obvious symptoms of decline self-destruction.
_ _ _ _ _

They came nowhere close to making a real case for a larger navy. They did systematically neglect the relevance of allies and of geography. They did completely ignore land-based air power. They did completely ignore the sorry state of the shipbuilding industry in the United States. They did completely ignore diplomacy, possible naval limitation treaties and conflict moderation/mediation.
They did completely ignore the possibilities that auxiliary warships (cargo ships re-equipped for combat) offer. Nowhere did they respect that other countries might have legitimate security interests.

All they did was to repeat the orthodox mainstream views of the pro-military crowd and call for a bigger navy. It was an utterly disingenuous, worthless, uninspired and unimaginative piece of pro-naval spending propaganda.



Ultralight portable equipment

I have a weakness for minimalism, elegance. That's probably why my primary interest in military hardware these days is about the potential of ultralight equipment.
Many standard individual military equipment pieces is shockingly heavy. We don't even have to look at weapons, munitions or armour to find such shockingly heavy equipment: Things such as flashlights, jackets, entrenching tools and compasses often feel like lead-lined.

Fascinating dedication and interesting ultralight hardware solutions can be found in the ultralight backpacking/trekking community and their specialist stores.

They do put their pants on one leg at a time, though. Ultralight weight often comes with a price premium or (more troublesome) with poor durability.
I've come to terms with both. The costs would add up to less than 2,000 € per infantryman or scout, which is completely tolerable. The poor durability seems to be tolerable as well if one adapts the ways one uses the hardware:

The ultralight equipment should be in storage in the barracks and be used on one or two key exercises per year or in times of serious crisis. The ordinary equipment could be the more durable and clearly heavier equipment.

There are even ultralight firearms (not quite in trekking stores, at least not in Europe), such as a roughly 2 kg 5.56 mm NATO/407mm ultralight rifle loosely based on the AR-15 pattern and a roughly 4 kg 5.56 mm NATO/389mm (ultra)light machinegun.

I would expect the former to get real hot real quick, but that isn't much of a problem if you agree with my opinion that infantry should break contact within two (at most four) minutes of being detected by opposing forces (to dodge indirect fires). About two 30 rds mags would normally be spent in such an encounter, and three mags expended should be uncommon. This leads to a requirement that 60 rds/2 minutes should be within a tolerable dispersion and zero shift (such as enough to still hit a helmet-sized target at 200 m 90% of the time in otherwise optimum conditions) and 90 rds/2 minutes should not lead to relevant damage. The UL machinegun would have to rather consume 200/300 rds in that time while meeting expectations and avoiding relevant damage. 
The guns' durability until an armourer has to become involved would be acceptable as low as 1,000 rds for rifles and 3,000 rds for machineguns if really almost nothing fails (a few jams excluded) before those thresholds. Again, the training hardware could be heavier (same ergonomics and accessories, though) in order to achieve a better durability.

It takes some dedication (and for those not inclined to favour minimalism also a portion of self-discipline), but there appears to be a third path alternative to the current overloaded, partially armoured and partially digitised infantry on the one hand and exoskeleton-centric science fiction of fully armour plated and heavily armed infantry on the other hand: The agile ultralight infantrymen/scouts.
I really wish we would test this 3rd way alongside the current and mainstream prototype equipment.



Comment on the recent cruise missile diplomacy

The cruise missile strike was conducted by the three nuclear powers in NATO. Its influence on the 24 hrs news cycle is huge, while its influence on the future history of Syria will likely be limited to some people killed and some buildings demolished.
It looks like mindless great power gaming to me - and a most uninspired one, utterly lacking a strategy towards a desirable or at least acceptable outcome. The West didn't and almost certainly won't "win" in Syria - it merely participated in extinguishing the self-consuming daesh strawfire.

Regular readers know it, but I'll still repeat:
Such cruise missile diplomacy is illegal under article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty and other treaties that were signed, ratified and are in effect.

It's thus illegal in the United States as well. Article VI of the United States constitution says so.

The pro-war/pro-great power gaming folks assert that this isn't so because the president is commander of the armed forces and a mere federal law supposedly cannot limit his orders to the military, but those people cannot explain why the president then isn't allowed to murder just about every foreigner for no reason. After all, murder is but outlawed by a mere law.
Well, maybe they think POTUS can legally murder 6.7 billion people, but the 95% non-sociopaths of mankind surely agree that something would be utterly evil and wrong in that interpretation of the U.S. constitution.

I am in disgust of the reactions of those politicians of non-involved countries who welcome or even only tolerate such aggressive behaviour by allies. Such behaviour is 90% of what Germany did that led to the First World War; it tolerated aggression by an ally.

Maybe one or two horrible wars later mankind stands a chance of understanding that such aggressive, violent foreign policy is wrong regardless of faux or real legal excuses. Hopefully, some future generations will scratch their heads in confusion and disgust about the widespread toleration of killing by executive policy decision in peacetime.
We were at that point back in 1944 already. It's too bad that Western civilisation relapsed.



Two dominant battleship designs and the real sunset of battleships

There was a dominant design for battleships in the mid-18th century; the so-called seventy-four gun or 3rd rate ship-of-the-line. This ship was apparently an ideal compromise between firepower and sailing characteristics for great naval battles.

The even bigger 1st and 2nd rate ships of the line were superior in firepower and staying power (their thick wooden hulls were able to withstand a frigate's cannon shots at relevant ranges) which was most desirable as it led to a greater concentration of power in the line of battleships (the spacing between two ships of the line had to be about the same for any design, so a more powerful ship created a greater concentration of mass and was thus superior in raw power). On the other hand, their poor handling characteristics due to larger size and higher hull structures made them less efficient ships of the line, though.

A 74 was not as versatile as a frigate, but still very suitable for being sent on cruises and missions alone - which was hardly ever done with 1st and 2nd rate ships of the line.

The different 74 classes differed from each other, but there was an understanding that they were at a golden middle and a huge quantity was built by the great powers. There were 107 such ships of the Téméraire class alone.

It took one and a half century for another similarly dominant design to emerge after a bewildering variety of experiments - the pre-dreadnought, pioneered by HMS Majestic.

These steel warships used a main battery turret fore and one aft of the superstructure (often twin turrets with 11" or 12" guns), lots of secondary and tertiary artillery casemate guns, triple expansion steam engines, masts only for observation and signalling and a ramming-capable bow design. They were eventually superseded by the Dreadnought generation of battleships (all big gun battleships) which vastly improved the primary artillery firepower and reduced the other artillery to anti-torpedo boat defences.

This dominant design lasted for a mere decade, but almost all great powers followed it with some variations. Again, there was general global consensus about how to design a good battleship. One can appreciate how much the Majestic class led to standardisation by looking at the variety among earlier battleships and the similarity of the Majestic-mirroring pre-dreadnoughts.

Well, what were such ships good for?

A 74 was capable of frigate cruise missions, though rather expensive in operation for this. An important wartime mission besides fleet-in-being was the blockade of ports. Back in the day before there were effective coastal defence craft a squadron of such ships could blockade a port with a close blockade - anchor in sight of the port. Escape was practical at night, rower-equipped or very fast (or lateen-rigged) ships only.

This close blockade approach had become much less practical by the mid-19th century (long after 74s lost relevance): Armoured and steam-powered coastal defence craft were able to engage such a blockade force at will, and could inflict intolerable damage. Still, one could claim that a slightly less close blockade with battleships that had steam engines themselves for survival in dead calm was possible. The ironclad battleships weren't that terribly vulnerable to coastal defence gunships in the 70's and 80's anyway (hence a short-lived fashion in favour of ramming).
The very early (propelled) torpedoes had little capability. They had to be employed very close up and thus didn't change the general picture decisively, as battleships were able to sustain a blockade at least in daytime against the opposition of torpedo boats.

Yet something had changed by the late pre-dreadnought era just before the dreadnoughts arrived: Torpedo-armed submarines such as the Holland class became operational.

The presence of such submarines made it much too dangerous to maintain a close blockade in daylight; even cruising around in the port's vicinity would sooner or later lead to one or multiple torpedo hits as the battleship would inevitably come too close to the submarine sooner or later.

The battleship's utility had been reduced to coastal bombardment (which cruisers were capable of as well), intercepting slower ships on the high seas (cruisers were faster and thus better at interception) and finally escorting high value convoys against interception by other capital ships and cruisers. Great naval battles with lines of battleships facing each other  had no utility in themselves other than perverse entertainment of newspaper readers. They were a means to reduce the potential to do other, actually directly useful, activities.

The British "R" class super dreadnoughts were used for little more than fleet-in-being, coastal bombardment and protection of large convoys against surface raiders, for example. They exemplified the diminished utility of battleships.

The early "fast" battleships of 24-26 kts speed such as the Queen Elizabeth class were of little more utility, albeit used more in wartime efforts (with relatively little effect). They were still slower than the cruisers of their time and much less suitable as raiders than them.

Battlecruisers have an almost universally bad reputation because of the series of explosions of British battlecruisers at Jutland, but they largely devalued the slower and weaker armoured cruisers (which largely followed the "Majestic" pattern, but sacrificed much armour for a few knots of extra speed and more endurance) and led to their end without actually destroying more than a handful of them (ironically all by the flawed British battlecruisers).

Later battlecruiser designs and really fast (29 kts and more) battleship designs were not able to maintain a relevant (or any) speed advantage over contemporary cruiser designs in other than severe seas, though. They had no satisfactory 6-gun main battery salvo in all directions either and were thus not able to keep a preferred distance while delivering effective long-range fires.*

The commonly-held belief about the sunset for battleships appears to be that the rise of the aircraft caused the star of the battleship to plunge. It's true that aircraft excelled at destroying battleships (as did submarines), and a battle between a carrier and a battleship would usually be won by the carrier (HMS Courageous and early on in the Battle of Leyte Gulf being exceptions). What really changes the balance in favour of the carrier (and land-based aviation, but navies don't want to pay attention to this angle) is the much greater utility, though.

I prefer to call the early 1900's as the sunset of the battleship - this was even before HMS Dreadnought, in the late pre-Dreadnought age. Battleships were at that time reduced to superior convoy protection against large surface threats as their only unique selling proposition. Everything else became largely pointless or impractical because of submarines or done better by (battle)cruisers and/or submarines.
The relative uselessness of the ordinary (slow) battleships such as the 'R' class during WW2 and the utterly indecisive role of battleships in the First World War are powerful evidence.

Navies didn't fully recognize this until the undisputable mass destruction of battleships by non-battleship threats left no option of looking the other way any more.

So I draw two lessons from this:
  1. A confirmation that armed bureaucracies can waste vast fortunes on obsolete paradigms.
  2. People are overemphasizing lethality compared to devaluation. Hardly anyone notices that battleships became largely superfluous long before they faced mass destruction by dissimilar threats.



*: A salvo of six shots is needed according to a rule of thumb, as it's too difficult to observe the centre of the salvo's impacts with fewer water fountains.  This observation is critical to correction of aim for a later salvo and thus the probability of hit at ranges beyond about 10,000 m. Hence there were very few capital ship designs with less than six barrels of the primary calibre once centralised fire control was introduced. This six gun rule of thumb lost relevance in the age of radar and proper fire control computers.


Recruitment and retention in the Bundeswehr

There has been a lot of dissent to and even protest against the personnel policies of the Bundeswehr. The recruitment appears to aim at young people who don't want to leave their comfort zone and don't want any martial-ish job. Retention policies appear to focus on on-base luxuries in the era von der Leyen (=minister of defence) while lots and lots of problems that are most detrimental for retention are unsolved.
And then there's the issue that "retention" is almost a misnomer in regard to the Bundeswehr; the career models are still mostly about young people joining as "Soldat auf Zeit" (soldier for a fixed time period), with NCOs and officers maybe becoming career soldiers until retirement afterwards.

Here are my thoughts on the personnel system. I held them (mostly) back for a really, really long time because I actually haven't  had an insider experience in a long time.

In general:
Recruitment for air force and navy security unit personnel and army should be through a militia-ish system. Every German gets the invitation to join the militia for half a year and earn a really good pay there (easily squeezed between school and university, or a temporary gap filler after job training when the employer didn't keep the trainee employed). These six months would give a general military education and basic infantry skills to everyone. This pool of trained reservists would greatly accelerate a military expansion if there's a two-year arms race or even a war in the future. The training would be designed to be militarily worthwhile and individually attractive. It would typically begin in summertime a month after the end of the school year, and end early enough to allow them to join university at the following summer semester with a vacation before and after the militia service.
Some of those who do this would volunteer for another short period for reserve NCO training while others would join the regular army (which then doesn't need to bother with basic training and automatically has an "everyone a rifleman" ethos).
The recruitment for this militia should follow the "masculine" attraction of the job; it's better for their recruitment videos to show stuff blowing up and camouflaged bivouacs in snowy woodland than a daycare centre on the base.

The number one priority should be that the armed services are fit enough that their personnel is proud to serve in them.
Soldiers should not serve on a base where almost nothing is newer than their own age. No cheating about readiness - be ready! De facto 100% of nominal equipment strength should be achieved and maintained. Obsolete equipment is tolerable only for an at most three years long period when the successor hardware gets phased in. Red tape needs to be limited, and superiors who obsess about protecting themselves from consequences of mishaps need to be removed. Officers and NCOs who were promoted beyond their ability need to be demoted. Disaffected personnel that really wants out should be allowed to leave (with some financial disadvantages).

Recruitment for medical services should be cut severely. The military should not have any physicians other than general practitioners and surgeons with focus on trauma patients. The military could use conscription to get other needed specialists in times of war.

Job security after the military service is important; so far you better jump the ship soon enough, or you might end up being unemployed without a decent pension later in your life. So anyone who leaves the armed services after 20 years of service should have a job guarantee with at least 90% of the last military service monthly income in the civilian bureaucracy.

Some physically demanding jobs should be done at age 20-35, and the limits of acceptable ages are 18-38 for these jobs. These physically demanding jobs (infantry, scouts, many engineer jobs) make up less than one quarter of all army personnel, and likely less than half of the army personnel ever had or will have the physique potential to be good at those jobs for several years.
I would thus divide the army into those who have a career involving such physically demanding jobs and those who go through the others (office jobs, mechanics, drivers and so on). The former should stay in the physically demanding jobs (and militia leadership positions) till age 35 or till they really, really want a more comfortable assignment at least for a while. The more of these are in "cushy" jobs at age 24-38, the more internal reserves the army will have for the demanding jobs. The more of them are in "cushy" jobs at age 39-50 the more of an internal trainer reserve for basic and militia training the army will have. These men (yes, "men") would help to make non-combat, non-scout units more robust in combat situations.

The other (bigger) share of army personnel could be hired approximately the conventional way; the prospect of getting a not too stressful job and possibly some training such as mechanic, paramedic or electrician (or a qualification to join a civilian bureaucracy afterwards) would serve as effective incentives. Decent pay, not too many relocations to different bases, not too many off-base courses away from family, climate-controlled office spaces and driver cabs et cetera can make such jobs an attractive career option till retirement. That is, if one gets away from the "soldier for a few years" model and also makes the hierarchy less depressing for the lower ranks (it sucks if 90+% of the troops at your base are authorised to give you orders).

I'm not in favour of the continued existence of the German navy, but I won't have it my way, so here are my 2 Euro cents for personnel affairs of a not-disbanded German navy:
The pre-1900 recruitment appeal of the navy was enormous; join the navy and you'll see the world. Nowadays we can do so by flying, but hardly anyone can afford to travel past the Mediterranean before age 25. So let's exploit this for recruitment.
Build two dedicated training ships (NOT a refurbished sailing vessel!) with good accommodations (compact, but well-designed cabins), training facilities including a movie theatre and a gym. These two ships could cruise once around the world per year, completing the training from basic to sonar operator/administrator/cook/whatever in one year. Dozens of ports all around the world would be visited with long port call periods where the trainees could leave the ship for the evening or for several days.
That should do the trick of recruiting if combined with a four year total voluntary service. There will then be the need to achieve good retention rates with those troops who served well and showed potential.  This should be achieved by a combination of good pay, motivating service and concentration of the whole navy in  one Baltic Sea port (warships and boats could cruise to some saltwater port as a temporary base for saltwater training - the difference does matter for mine countermeasures and ASW).
Warships should be operated by 'seamen for life'; men and women who intend to and usually do serve on board of ships till age 50 if not beyond. Personnel turnover per year should be much less than 10% per year on a warship. Smaller units such as minehunters could be used for the start of a career at sea (to identify those suitable for a 'seaman for life' career), and the rather uncomfortable submarines could have the conventional personnel rotation.

Warships (other than training ships) should never be sent farther than Arctic and Mediterranean waters, and crews should be rotated every couple weeks between sister ships if there's a multi-month mission for a warship in the Mediterranean.

Air force:
Just about every air force world-wide has a reputation for a relatively comfortable service, save for the quasi-infantry security units.
The air force can thus do its recruitment and retention approximately as done or mentioned before. It has no special attraction other than the very small quantity of pilot jobs. Aircraft mechanics are special in my opinion; aircraft mechanic should be a job for life, with retirement at about age 60. The security units could recruit through the militia and rotate personnel with air defence batteries.*

The air force is a branch where attractive barracks features (yes, including daycare, but also a free gym), good pay, pride in functional and purposeful units and a decent work experience (no harassment, no feeling of being at the bottom of the barrel as enlisted personnel) could be the pillars for recruitment (partially through word of mouth) and retention. Over 90% of air force jobs could be done by women at age 50, so there's no need for a particularly young personnel force. A career at the air force could and should typically be a career for age 18-60.

- - - - -

The lack of details and detailed accusations and ranting about specific problems betrays my lack of detailed knowledge of post-2000 Bundeswehr personnel affairs.
This was thus rather an appeal to look at not utterly conventional approaches, farther away than today's approaches from the Cold War's Bundeswehr which rested on short-serving conscripts, recruitment in part through retention of conscripts as volunteers and generally very high personnel turnover in all units.


P.S.: I'd like to fire off ONE very specific rant and complaint, though: "Leichte Sprache" (simplified language for retards) and "Gebärdensprache" (sign language for deaf people) features are 100% unnecessary and indeed most embarrassing on a Bundeswehr recruiting website! WTF!?

*: Air defence small units and units often need to deploy far away from the protection of air base security units, and should be as capable of self-defence as "rear" field army units. Many NCOs in the air force security units appear to (in my experience) overcompensate and can be unnecessarily uncomfortable superiors. Periods of service away from such an environment could be welcome relaxation, so a rotation to units with rather technically-minded NCOs and officers as in air defence units makes sense.


The Russian "long game"

An unsolicited advice:

Apply Occam's Razor when someone asserts that Putin's Russia plays the long game to hegemony (or anything else).
Couldn't it be that this someone sees slowness, interprets it as a symptom of systematic and steady progress towards a long-term goal - but in reality that slowness is nothing but the symptom of resources too limited for any grand goals?



[Blog] Unpopular things, the big picture and blog (in)activity

I have  habit of telling unpopular things, such as telling warship fans that most warships are unnecessary, telling combat aviation fans that ground/ground missiles should be used more and air/ground attack is unreliable, or telling army fans that we actually have plenty land forces compared to the few threats, and the issue is rather in quality than in quantity or budgeting. I tell military-loving folks that all small and offensive wars are bollocks, war doesn't work and military spending should rather be slashed than increased.

It appears that I sought and found a niche that guarantees a failure in any attempt to reach a large audience; "unconventional" conclusions and opinions that hardly anyone shares among those people who frequent military blogs.

On top of that I mastered the skill of alienating many longtime readers by offering contradictions in comments or private correspondence.

Well, this isn't a commercial blog, so I got that one excuse at least.

Still, the obvious and seemingly unavoidable failure to bring much of a message across for want of a large audience is having an impact on my motivation. I've had my very motivating military theory-heavy times at the blog years ago, and hardware-centric writing was never particularly motivating.
Right now I don't have a single topic to write about on my mind that I didn't think of months or years ago already (and thus obviously delayed and avoided again and again).

The grand picture is one of government establishments and public opinion finally shifting back to collective defence from stupid wars of de facto occupation. This pivot won't be done in any economically or time-efficient way, but it's happening and I suppose it will suffice to deter any great power attack on NATO and EU members for at least a decade to come.

Turkey - a geostrategically very important country - is drifting away from the West and the Russians are back in the stupid great power game of messing up the Mid East, but this won't really change the daily lives of Europeans.

Comically inept and other psychologically compromised or simply authoritarian politicians pop up and disappear after a couple years or decades. We've seen that before as well.

Germany will sometime in my lifetime return to a government with an intention to reform the country to reduce well-known problems instead of being ruled by a coalition intent on almost nothing but maintaining its power and most other aspects of the status quo. 

NATO thought of itself as some liberal / free world alliance in the 90's, but now it's back to being a partially dirty and uncomfortable bloc as it already was in the 60's and 70's.

We Europeans shouldn't pay much attention to what happens in the Far East, except that all involved parties should think of us as readily available honest brokers should the need for one arise. The British appear to be somewhat tainted by the idea that they need to think of the PR China as a threat due to lacking a language barrier with the Americans and having strong links to the Australians,

Maybe sometime in a few decades I will be a grumpy old man who annoys people by pointing out that I was correct on certain conclusions all along (I would certainly not point out my mistakes - hardly anyone does, so why would I?).

So lange Rede, kurzer Sinn (long talk, little meaning): 

I intend to keep blogging, but I will likely write much less ever since 2009. I expect maybe 100-150 posts for this year, and lots of those will be low effort blog posts.
You have my promise that if I ever end blogging I will write a farewell if I still can, and not simply disappear as did all-too many mil bloggers that I more or less followed in the past decade.