"Never was so much owed by so many to so few" or 'the tip of the spear'


The Roman Republic moved to a professional military because long campaigns (and occupations) in distant places had become too much of a burden to the citizens (conscripts from the middle class had to leave their trade for years, and their families were ruined).*

from left: Hastati, Velites, Triarii, Principes.
The not shown Equites were the even wealthier horse owners.
From then on professional troops, mercenaries and Foederati ally-mercenaries fought wars on Rome's behalf. The society demilitarised, and for centuries large swaths of the republic and later the empire were so far away from any threat that they didn't feel war first hand for generations if not centuries. Very few (hundreds of thousands) fought wars for very many (dozens of millions).

We have essentially the same model (few professional troops) today as well. Conscription is a theoretical legal term now in Germany, most of the EU and in North America. Almost all of the EU is so far from any non-ridiculous threat that having a small tip of the spear with a shaft doing no more than supporting the tip works just fine.

In fact, it's even more extreme than 1.5 million men and women being tasked with the defence of 500 million people who are largely disinterested in military affairs. The 1.5 million are supposed to expose themselves to great(er) risks in wartime for the benefit (security) of the 500+ million others.

About 80% of those 1.5 million men and women are in support units that are not meant to fight unless attacked (if ever). The roughly 200k...300k actual combat troops in Europe are supposed to expose themselves to (even) great(er) risks in wartime for the benefit (security) of almost everyone else, including the support troops.

Then again there are the reconnaissance troops, vanguards, wing security detachments, rearguards - a small part (at most 1/3) of combat troops plus the dedicated reconnaissance troops who are expected to accept great risks (such as walking into an undetected ambush, or a deception op) for the benefit (risk reduction) of the other combat troops.

The tip of the spear becomes ever more narrow the more close one comes to the point.

This may actually change with autonomous robots (sci fi warfare), but for the time being the Western civilisation is implicitly applying the military risk management technique of exposing very few people to great risks in order to reduce the risks for most.

This is a difficult-to-bear situation unless one prefers ignorance or refuses to pay attention.

Article 1 [Human dignity]

(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.
(3) The following basic rights shall bind the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary as directly applicable law.

Article 2 [Personal Freedoms]

(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.
(source, I underlined the parts that the constitutional court referred to in its ruling)

Judges aren't the only ones who have difficulties with the idea that sacrificing few for the benefit of the many is acceptable: Philosophers have had difficulties with this for a long time. 
One relevant philosophical question is whether we would be allowed to kill one to harvest the organs to save many. It's very much the same dilemma as with the aircraft or the once self-evident military focusing of risks.
There's no really satisfactory answer; we would like to have it both ways, and thus seek to research technological ways out of the dilemma.

Western armed bureaucracies have understood and felt the waned acceptance of the idea of sacrifice in war. Americans tend to call this "casualty aversion", but the underlying problem is in my opinion that the fashionable B.S. talk of many anglophone soldiers and some German Afghanistan veterans is simply untrue: The troops at the tip of the spear don't risk their heads FOR their nation. They risk their health and life in B.S. small wars that did practically no good to their nation. They're not the tip of the spear - they're just a detached splinter that does not provide benefits to the vast majority of people at all. They were sent into cabinet wars.

We've spent a generation undermining a fundamental pillar of how and why a military works in defence of its nation (or by extension its nation's alliance). To expose few for the benefit of many is an unpleasant dilemma that we prefer to avoid (the way to do so is to keep the peace). Yet it's also how the military works at a moist fundamental level, and undermining this concept with stupid little wars may haunt us mightily in the future. We sabotaged our own minds into a lesser readiness for future defence.**


*: Another motivation was that the middle class was eroded by bottom-up redistribution of income and wars (as early as late in the 2nd Punic War the cheap (low income group and thus cheaply self-equipped) velites skirmisher troops had become a very suboptimally large share of the field armies as there weren't enough middle class citizens left who were able to afford the Hastati or even better gear).  Such poorly structured armies struggled against the Macedons and failed against the Cimbri and Teutons.
**: I'm not preaching militarising our minds. I do NOT believe that we are culturally soft, or too old or in any other way unable to wage war. I believe that those who claim so underestimate how mindsets change when SHTF. To undermine fundamental concepts that were proved effective for millennia is still irresponsible as long as we have no good substitute ready.   I'm pointing at a brick. That's not the same as claiming there's an insurmountable wall in our path.

edit: I had another, closer look at the drawing with the post-Camillan reforms / pre-Marian reforms troop types and some details seem to be off, so please don't take that drawing too seriously.


Exotic ancient weapons: (IX) Penobscot double bow

First, an engineering view of the double bow.

The Penobscot bow / Wabanaki bow / Mi'kmaq (double) bow is an advanced version of a cable-backed bow with very different mechanics. It's different in its performance from bows that simply use wider or thicker limbs or more limbs.

photo uploaded by "Judson"/"Judson127", taken from here

Mechanical engineers learn that everything can be considered to be a spring; even a solid block of steel is a spring. We can apply a force to it and it will either compress or elongate. We usually cannot see the tiny change in its dimensions, but it happens. Its spring constant simply requires a powerful force for very little change of its dimensions. Spring steels in coil spring shape make it much easier to experience how steel yields to mechanical forces.

A bow can be considered a spring as well - you pull harder, it yields more - and just like a spring, it stores energy in the process. This energy can be released for the purpose of accelerating the arrow (or with an arrow guide, the dart).

Bows (and many other spring arrangements) have no spring constant, though; the amount of force required to pull the arrow back by one more centimetre depends on how far you already pulled it back. The bow design doesn't simply compress or elongate, but changes its shape as it yields to the pulling force (the string notches approach each other).
The ideal bow design would accelerate the arrow with about the same force regardless of how far it's still drawn (but that's not feasible). The force must not be excessive (or the user couldn't draw and hold the drawn bow well or at all) and should not be low (for the sake of accelerating the arrow well).
This cannot be done with a single spring; you need a set of springs (or a more complicated design such as the recurve or composite bows) to approximate this ideal.

Springs of different spring characteristics can be arranged to  create a non-linear spring curve; this way compressing or elongating by a certain distance doesn't require the addition of the same force regardless of how much the spring system has already been manipulated.

The double bow is such a two-spring-ish system in spirit. The small front bow is not just an overly elaborate way of making the bow stiffer; it actually modifies the spring curve (requires more force to draw at first, thus also accelerates the arrow more) as a parallel spring, and by consensus of double bow users, it does so in an advantageous way compared to a self bow of equivalent technology. You get more performance out of such a bow for the same maximum (28" draw) draw 'weight' than with an otherwise equivalent technology self bow.

That, by the way, is the reason why people who create double bows with the front bow almost as long as the main bow either didn't get what the design is meant to accomplish or are merely trying to create a bow that can make do with poor material (poorly suitable woods). A proper performance double bow has a short front bow that gets fully drawn fairly soon in the drawing motion.

(BTW, the Penobscot double bow is supposedly not really "ancient", supposedly it's just over a hundred years old - I doubt this, but don't have sources that mention it earlier.)
edit: I decided to add this link, asthe author there actually shows a diagram with force-draw curves. The Penebscot double bow design essentially leads to a quicker rise in draw strength on the first centimetres (inches) of draw. During the shot, the arrow gets accelerated with more force when it's forward that much again. / I also cleaned up the text above a bit.

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Second, this video on African martial arts (unrelated to double bows):

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Third, some general remarks on non-firearm weapons:

It's amazing how after some study one becomes mostly able to tell the way a weapon was meant to be used by merely looking at it, including some requirements for the associated armour.

The hilt of a blade weapon in itself can be formed to almost force the user to use a certain motion for slashing. This particular hilt design alone tells the observer that the blade will be very curved sabre's blade.

Curved blades typically require a relatively high quality material because they almost never have two edges, and one edge could quickly become dull in an extended battle. Curved blades are especially meant for cutting, so holding a good blade is important (harder edge allows for a sharper edge) and difficult (harder edge ~ more brittle edge).
The one exception I'm aware of are the bronze age sickle swords, and their users were probably prepared to sharpen their weapon with a grindstone on their own as in agricultural use of sickles.

Curved blades are never made for thrusting into the body; they are made for cuts and slashing motions. The cutting motions may include a pushing and pulling motion, but only to cut along the side of the target. The pushing cut isn't really an option with forward-curved blades such as sickles, romphaia or falx.

Straight blades can be built for thrusting into organs, but don't necessarily have the point for it (Celtic swords were largely limited to slashing, as the point was often dull). Very fine points give away the intent to penetrate an armour type that's not very good against thrusting attacks (typically mail), and are thus uncommon in areas where such armours that are vulnerable to thrusting attacks are rare (example East and South Asia).

An extreme case are the smallswords and the like - straight sword-like blade weapons meant exclusively for thrusting with the point, without a shard edge. These continued to be in use after mail armour fell out of fashion in almost all of Europe (Balkans excluded). Frankly, my suspicion is that they were optimised for light weight, as respectable sidearms that aren't too much of a burden on their user.

Large handguards tend to be associated with no use of shields, or use of shields very unwieldy (pavise) or very small (buckler). Handguards can then help protect the hand when you cannot do it with a shield. An exception is the customary retention of large handguards along with late medieval plate armour, but one should keep in mind that swords were sidearms and thus also (if not primarily) used when the wearer wasn't fully geared up.
Blunt weapons such as maces and hammers (also hammer components in weapons such as the pollaxe) were either an extreme budget solution (clubs) or a response to very effective armour. Blunt force can even be effective against plate armour and equivalent helmets when blades and pointy weapons fail. The latter are usually built to be nimble in their use and thus quite lightweight. Axes and blunt weapons require a lot of mass where it matters the most; at the end of a pole or short shaft.

Single-handed weapons that are quite long among their kind (mace, sword, sabre) tend to be cavalry arms. Their increased length compensates for poor riding skills* or a loss of dexterity caused by the user's armour.

Lances and pikes were usually held low, while spears were held high (if used single-handedly) for a greater choice of movements.
Polearms with oval pole cross section and/or dedicated axe head, spike or blade elements (examples pollaxes, halberds, naginatas) were meant for slashing and/or swiping movements. This in turn indicates that they were meant for two-handed use, and thus lead to an emphasis on good armour protection for the user, since shields would be quite impractical.**

Javelins are particularly interesting; the very light ones were used in great quantity by dedicated skirmishers and cavalry, while the more elaborate ones such as the famous Roman pilum (no doubt the most advanced and most capable javelin design ever despite lacking an amentum or spear thrower) were carried in small quantity (one or two per legionary; that's still up for debate). The pilum's purpose was threefold; a demoralising/shocking salvo, disabling shields by sticking to them (making them unwieldy and enabling the enemy to push the shield sideways) and finally an emergency use as a spear, particularly against cavalry.***

Spears are capable weapons for one-on-one situations unless the enemy has good armour. Their use was typically rooted in at least one of three motives; poverty (spears as versatile budget option), horsemen threat (spears as anti-horseman weapon,**** obviously not helpful against missile horsemen) and third, disciplined forces employing closed order tactics (example Greek phalanx).

As with swords, the width of the spear tip usually indicates whether a spear was meant for use against armoured opponents or not. A wide, leaf-shaped spear tip would be for use against unarmoured opposition (example iklwa), or for the hunt. Boar spears and some other spears had some guards to limit penetration.

Particularly short stabbing blade weapons such as the Spartan short xiphos versions or Germanic seax were associated with very restricted close quarters combat, such as fighting in a phalanx or shield wall where the gaps between shields and the air above could be used for very short stabbing motions. Another use for such short sidearms was on board of warships (for boarding actions), usually with a blade that's well-suited to slashing (which makes it useful for cutting tows).

Likewise, the design of shields allows conclusions about their use.


*: Not all horsemen were good at horsemanship games and thus capable of picking stuff up from the ground while riding, so they needed longer weapons to strike targets lying on the ground. That in turn is important because to simply lie on the ground is a reasonable approach to protect oneself from a cavalry charge; horses will avoid to step on such irregularities to avoid injury.
**: This requirement finds in exception of the very late halberd-ish weapons such as partisans of the firearms era, about 17th and first half of 18th centuries. The same applies to bayonets. The requirement may not be met because of economical reasons, but two-handed polearms were rare when good body armour was unaffordable unless the use of powerful halberd-like weapons made it quite pointless anyway (example Japanese warrior monks with Naginatas).
***: The pilum slowly fell out of use when the longer spatha sword gradually replaced the gladius sword. The disciplined Roman infantry (even auxiliary infantry) was able to resist shock cavalry with disciplined closed order formations (horses don't run into spear tips, but the don't run into shield walls either) and a longer sword made the need for some spear-ish weapon against cavalry less pressing. There may thus have been such a relation between the rise of the spatha and the decline of the pilum (in favour of plumbata and cheaper simple javelins). Alternatively, the increased use of light javelins by horsemen may have led to a better opinion about them, eroding the pilum's role. Last but not least, the late imperial Western Roman infantry faced much more cavalry and actual spears became much more common in service again. Spears and pila don't go well along because spearmen tend to keep close formation, whereas pila require some more space for the user to throw. In the end, the pilum+gladius combination was unique to late Republican and early Imperial Rome, and a hugely successful approach that seemed to have been suboptimal in other times and places.
****: Long straight swords could be used to deter cavalry as well (Pallasch weapons were used by cuirassiers of the 18th century almost as if they were spears).


[deutsch] Dipl.-Ing. Rolf Hilmes: Überflüssig oder unverzichtbar? Zur Zukunft des Kampfpanzers


A presentation (in German) of the German 'tank pope' Rolf Hilmes (the German equivalent of Ogorkiewicz in authorship).

Sorry, I had nothing really to blog about this week. I've been too busy with other things for weeks (the past three or four blog posts were pre-scheduled).



Some science stuff of interest


The haemoglobin alternative was found in those sea worms around 2003 or so, and it can be produced in powder form. The powder combined with sterile water (I suppose boiled water cooled down works fine) can be transfused as replacement for blood. This could have a noticeable impact especially on combat medics, and make enforcement of water discipline (water instead of other beverages carried in canteens & bladders) even more important than before. It's likely a much better blood substitute in emergencies than saline solution because it actually transports oxygen instead of merely averting a volume shock.

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Microsatellites / Cubesats

Up to 500 commercial imagery satellites planned by in one service alone. The company "Planet" has already 285 satellites in space. 88 of 104 microsatellites launched by a single Indian PLSV rocket in early 2017 were from that company; 4 kg each.
Such satellites would matter a lot to warfare (a tiny quantity of commercial imagery satellites already proved valuable in the 1991 Iraq War), and it appears that anti-satellite munitions (=rockets) would not be a suitable approach against them.
Moreover, they appear to be affordable to almost any potentially warring government by the dozens at least.
A great power would either need blinding (not just dazzling) lasers or near-continuous radio data link jamming to defeat such a reconnaissance capability in space. Anti-satellite missiles that cost millions of Euros each are no appropriate countermeasure. The most affordable countermeasure might be to simply disable the operator's control capacity on the ground and hope that the adversary has no backup plan to counter this move.


The use of lasers for communication would of course make communications activity much safer for those on the ground, which might be a huge boon to clandestine agents (and assets), long range recon patrols and armoured recce guys.
The optical receiver would be highly susceptible to damage by hostile lasers, of course.

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Interesting. I suppose much of what seems to be loss aversion may furthermore be framed as  imperfect information (better information about potential losses than about potential gains).
Imperfect information and its consequences are very important in most fields, including economics, engineering (which works with much more rules of thumb, approximations and guesswork than would be comfortable to the end user) and military theory.
Math, most of physics and IT are largely unaffected by uncertainty and imperfect information, though even there it's often but a question of how close you look.

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"[...]deradicalization activists argue that much of what the left thinks it knows about shutting down racist extremists is misplaced. When it comes to changing individuals, denunciation may counteract rather than hasten deradicalization. If that seems like surrender, consider that some researchers who study hate groups think we should view violent extremism not only as a problem of ideology, but also as a problem of addiction: a craving for group identity, adrenaline, and the psycho­logical kick of hatred. As with substance addiction, there may be no silver bullet for curing extremism, only a lifelong battle to leave such impulses behind."



Link dump September 2018

As usual, here are links and commentary on first Saturday of the month:

F-15X proposal
(I haven't found any definitive illustration of a F-15X.
This image is about the AMBER missile racks from 2015.)

Boeing pitched a new F-15 version to the U.S.A.F., presumably at a lower fly-away price than the F-35 and supposedly loaded with up to 22 air-to-air missiles as the most striking feature.

This looks like a design that takes a heavy strike fighter and adds a niche capability for air combat. This 'missile truck' approach fits well into a concept in which F-22's are up front on combat air patrol in an air war, and make use of farther to the rear F-15s as missile launchers. There aren't enough F-22s to maintain large numbers of them up front 24/7 (particularly not far from the air base, as in a pacific air war scenario) and they carry but eight missiles (only six AMRAAMs) each on an air superiority mission. Things such as towed decoys* ruin the probability of kill of such missiles, so the entire air superiority missile load of a F-22 may very well be worth less than one kill against sophisticated opponents.

There's a segregated hunter/killer approach with low observable F-22 up front detecting targets while trying to avoid detection and sending targeting data to farther behind F-15s that serve as killers (missile trucks). It's a tailored approach to compensate for the small quantity of missiles carried by F-22 (and F-35) inside and the small quantities of on-station F-22s. It might work because the missiles' no escape zones are much greater than the detection ranges against LO fighters. The F-15X would still be an all-round capable strike fighter in a 'let's beat up some poor small power again' scenario.
The high quantity of AMRAAMs carried may also allow for a routine launch of two or more missiles per target, in an effort to wear down the target's (towed) decoys and kinetic energy (the latter through its evasive manoeuvres) for a final, lethal missile approach.

This entire niche depends on the F-15X's ability to withstand the threat of long-range missiles itself. This and the likely quite high maintenance costs, obsolete looks (first flight 46 years ago) and unusually high RCS (apparently an order of magnitude bigger than of Typhoon or Rafale) of the F-15 will likely kill the proposal. It's also questionable how F-15Xs could help F-22s against LO fighters.

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This means some extra weight, but maybe there are at least some real world uses for this weird-looking tech.

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It's interesting to see them swarm the bull like bees swarm a hornet to overwhelm it in defence of the hive. I wonder if there's some hidden instinct left over from the prehistoric times. It may have been a random outcome, of course.

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Oldie, but goodie. I wish I had this file when I wrote the warship article series. It didn't add anything noteworthy to my knowledge, but it would have been a very nice link to offer.

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DIRCM (lasers that dazzle incoming infrared-guided missiles) have become really small. I think this size is OK for installation on the topside of combat aircraft.** The next generation of IR-guided missiles really needs to be able to deal with DIRCM (there are several countermeasures to lasers known).

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So the Chinese copied the German Troika approach of naval minesweeping (more accurately; "minebreaking") as well. I didn't know that so far.

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Quick mention (no link):
It's a blast from the 80's. Soft kill protection for airbases and such hasn't caught on as far as I know, but I suppose it should in light of conventional cruise missiles. This isn't the 80's when we thought an attack on an airbase would probably be done by a 20+ kt nuke on a ballistic rocket.
Isn't it weird that they had developed what it likely takes to defeat conventional cruise missiles in the 80's, but that kind of missiles really only became an issue to the West long after the Cold War?

related: smoke used to conceal targets from bombers in WW2
German smokescreen use at Wilhelmshaven in June 1943
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I wonder what kind of people such implausible Fox News propaganda does address.


*: Such as Lobushka towed decoy, more details on this kind of countermeasures are here if you can read it (or use an online translation service). A towed decoy can be considered to be a lure, but towed between missile and target it can also trigger the missile fuse at a safe distance (even if the missile is locked on the aircraft).
**: Such an installation could still defeat threats coming from below; simply roll the aircraft. The advantage of topside is that the field of view would not be obstructed by external payloads, the laser might be used as emitter for laser-based SATCOM and the topside is a less troublesome regarding the RCS of LO aircraft.