2019/06/29

'FutureFuel'

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This is a very interesting study in my opinion. Ammonia has popped up in many articles during the last 18 months or so as a possible solution to the hypothetical hydrogen economy's problems. There was some technological progress in efficient hydrogen release from ammonia a few years ago.

I suppose Ammonia (they really need to make up some fancy name like "FutureFuel" for it to dispel the association with its pungent smell!) might become the fuel of the future for most land vehicles that need more range than is economical (regarding the vehicle costs, not the energy costs) with solid state batteries.


Ammonia could also (maybe in hybrid designs with substantial solid state batteries) become standard fuel in future military land vehicles (ammonia stored in pressurized tanks) if it succeeds in civilian automotive sector long range applications.

The U.S. military has looked into biofuels and biofuels are also popular with many conservative politicians in Europe (mostly because they want to give their farmer voters some gifts), but biofuels make very little sense. Nature is ridiculously efficient at many things with its evolution-optimised organisms, but it is horribly inefficient at converting sunlight into usable energy. Photovoltaic cells have an efficiency of beyond 20%, while photosynthesis has efficiency of less than 2%, commonly less than 1%. Technical energy gathering solutions are more area-efficient than biofuel production by an order of magnitude (even taking into account the later value added steps till we have comparable fuels). Utility scale photovoltaic power is now also among the cheapest power sources in the world.*
We should gather energy in poor vegetation productivity areas with much solar irradiation (some areas of Spain come to mind, we don't need to go to Africa for that) and use the more productive areas for food and non-energy raw material production (or let them  recover to avoid soil degradation and erosion).

I reckon from the current point of view that future transportation propulsion should be mostly about solid state batteries, ammonia fuels (the latter often for use in fuel cells) and for both ships and large aircraft; liquid hydrogen.
This would have huge implications for military logistics, but also for very low temperature operation of motor vehicles.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: https://aneconomicsense.org/2019/06/20/the-increasingly-attractive-economics-of-solar-power-solar-prices-have-plunged/  There has been a flood of very recent study publications about the extreme economical advantages of  solar and hydro power in pure money economics (even before taking into account external effects). Only natural gas powerplants can compete (if there's a pipeline or gas field nearby). Coal and nuclear power are a waste of money right now, and to build any new coal or nuclear powerplants is utterly stupid. This does put a huge question mark on what the Saudis want "civilian" nuclear power tech for.
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2019/06/22

Ironclads

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I spent some time looking into the short Ironclad era - an era of roughly 15 years that began with the first iron-armoured warships and ended with a seagoing warship that had all its guns in turrets and used neither sails nor oars (only steam engines and screws) for its propulsion.


There were less than a hundred Ironclads. The pace of construction was fairly modest compared to the exertions of the 1890's to 1916. Many ironclads were modernised with better guns few years after introduction in service, and some ironclads had their armour plating improved to keep pace with better-penetrating guns (even doubled armour thickness).

The quality and thickness as well as wood backing of armour advanced at a fast pace, and a ship launched just a few years earlier might just as well have been unarmoured when facing some of the newest, biggest guns.

The success of the era-concluding Devastation class seems unlikely to me even in hindsight; its freeboard was scary small and its armament were a mere four slow-loading heavy guns. Still, this was the prototype battleship, setting a dominant design that lasted until HMS Dreadnought (1906) appeared and in many ways more similar to today's warships than to warships just 15 years before its time.

HMS Devastation (built 1869-1873)
The Italians lost the only major naval battle of the era through a horrible fleet leader performance and an unbelievable degree of gunnery incompetence (missing seagoing ships at less than 1,000 m with entire salvoes).

Sadly, the literature about the era appears to be very limited. I found (and read some of them):


Modern Ships of War by Sir Edward J. Reed and Edward Simpson, 1888

The British Navy, Past and Present by S.Eardley-Wilmot, 1888

The Development of Navies by Captain S. Eardley-Wilmot, 1892

Ironclads in Action by H.W. Wilson, 1896

Our Iron-Clad Ships: Their Qualities, Performances, and Cost by Edward James Reed, 2011 (the author died 1906, so this is a new edition)

The Old Steam Navy: The Ironclads, 1842-1885 by Donald E. Canney, 1993

Ironclads At War: The Origin And Development Of The Armored Battleship by Jack Greene and Allessandro Massignani, 1998

War at Sea in the Ironclad Age by Richard Hill, 2006

Ironclads: An Illustrated History of Battleships from 1860 to the First World War by Peter Hore, 2006

British Ironclads 1860-75 by Angus Konstam, 2018 (Osprey)
European Ironclads 1860-75 by Angus Konstam, 2019 (Osprey)

Some of the new books recycle 19th century books' contents, including using refurbished drawings. I disregarded the many books about the uninteresting American Civil War's ironclad riverine boats and coastal fair weather (negligible freeboard) vessels.


I hoped to find some insights and lessons about what happens when there's some revolutionary technology and armed bureaucracies try to cope with rapid technological progress. I didn't find any such things in the books about the Ironclad era yet.
Technically, HMS Warrior's screw design and HMS Waterwitch's pump jets were surprises to me; both were approaches that would avoid the drag of the screw when the ship is sailing and became superfluous by the time HMS Devastation dropped the rigging altogether. Sailing rigs were afterwards only sensible for cruisers, particularly raiders (the auxiliary cruiser SMS Seeadler of WWI fame was a sailship for this reason).

BTW, three Ironclads survived; HMS Warrior in Portsmouth and two small Dutch ironclads (HNLMS Buffel (Hellevouetsluis, Netherlands) and HNLMS Schorpioen (Den Helder, Netherlands)).

You might find this summary of 19th century armour development of interest.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

P.S.: Hat tip to the Russians for having a contemporary to HMS Devastation in their coastal warship Admiral Lazarev. It was actually laid down two years earlier and was superior in its armament concept by having three instead of two twin turrets. Reminder; the move from HMS Devastation's pattern of two twin main artillery turrets to a broadside of at least six main artillery guns was the key to the "all big gun battleship" concept a.k.a. "dreadnought" revolution three decades after HMS Devastation and Admiral Lazarev. The Russians were peripheral backwater to Western authors and their ship was a (not terribly small) coastal warship, so HMS Devastation get's more attention as groundbreaking design. I was guilty of this as well, hence this addition.
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2019/06/15

Peace without deterrence

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I do usually write with the unmentioned assumption that deterrence is necessary for maintaining peace.


Well, maybe it isn't?

There's the historical example of countries or princes paying some other power (not necessarily a weaker one) to maintain the peace. The Byzantine Empire did this, and it survived for more than a thousand years.
The payments may actually be cheaper than to maintain the forces to deter, and were almost certainly always cheaper than actually waging a war. So this choice may be the economically right thing to do (especially as a supplement rather than a full substitute for armed deterrence), but there's the risk that such behaviour leads to ever higher prices for peace and isn't optimal in the long term. Still, there are irrefutable and largely successful historical examples for powers maintaining the peace not only by deterrence, but also by protection money.

Other examples for peace without effective deterrence are modern and obvious. Uruguay certainly does not deter Brazil or Argentina, but it doesn't get invaded. Many other countries don't get invaded despite their obvious inability to deter, either.
Germany and Denmark would not go to war with each other even if there was no repercussion for doing so whatsoever. It would simply not cross anyone's (not insane) mind.
I mean it; Germany wouldn't even invade Denmark if it was invited to do so by all other countries, if there was no EU, no NATO, no Danish military, no UN - it simply would not happen. We wouldn't even invade Denmark if we faced economic sanctions for NOT invading Denmark.


I suppose that maintaining peace without effective deterrence and thus without much military expenditure has to receive at the very least as much attention in writing as does deterrence strategising. After all, there's somewhere the key insight for a world with marginal if any waste of resources on deterrence & defence in there.

So my own priorities are off to some degree, obviously.


S O
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2019/06/08

The rot of Pax Americana (II)

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Previously, I argued that the United States violated its own temporary grand strategy for peace and prosperity in the Western world with its own actions in the 50's. It would be considered a "rogue state" because of its undermining of unfriendly governments, its violent aggressions and its militarism if it was a majority Muslim, East Asian or simply "communist" country.

Remnants and façades of the international system built in the 40's and early 50's still hold out, in part because nobody wants to give nuclear war a try and in part because Europeans (and until recently also Americans) at least partially support them.*

Some European countries are somewhat aggressive (particularly the previous colonial empire UK and France), but overall, continental Europeans appear to have one precondition for being the decisive champions for a rules-based international order for peace and prosperity that the United States appears to lack:

Most of them appreciate win-win cooperation as a strategy, unlike the United States, which have  been decayed by quasi-anarchist propaganda ("(...) government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."**) and which cannot really settle on such a strategy any more.
I don't doubt that they have at least one political party capable of occasional win-win cooperation diplomacy, but I doubt that they have a political party of importance that would do so in a more consistent way than the country did during the 1960's-2010's.

Could Europe become a champion for a rules-based international order for peace and prosperity?

A long list would need to be checked in my opinion:
  • European unification ideologues would need to look outward a lot more and seek peace & prosperity on a global level instead of being fixated on European unification, for without them there would not be a large-enough ambitious base for such a grand strategy
  • Europe would need to join its influence with India and some other major countries in the long term (this may be Nigeria and Brazil)
  • European public(s) need to understand the utility of a win-win cooperation, and resist the decaying infiltration by ideologues from the U.S. and Russia
  • France would need to become more self-disciplined and stop its occasional violent interventions in Africa that often run counter to a rules-based international order
  • Europe would need to be willing to face the U.S., UK, Russia and possibly PR China at least in non-violent ways (UNSC votes, France's UNSC veto power, economic sanctions, refusal of diplomatic support and cooperation, support of opposing proxies)
  • Europe would need an approximately common news picture of the world. It cannot act in unity without perceiving the world approximately the same way  (keyword "elite nations" in journalism)
  • Europe needs to secure its raw materials access independently from any power it might need to face off against in defence of international law (this is about diplomacy & trade, not much about naval power)
  • Europe (EU) would need to maintain credible nuclear deterrence (France) as long as there are other nuclear powers
In other words; I doubt it will happen. Mankind is probably (and has been for sixty years) on a path away from win-win cooperation as the norm and away from an international order for peace and prosperity that's based on international law.
We're moving back to the previous world order of great powers pursuing their interests at the expense of others (with everyone most likely being worse off as a result).

We'll likely fail at the climate change challenge and fail to get to global net zero CO2-equivalent emissions from human actions' first order effects.*** We may get cleaner, healthier air in European cities from electrified motor vehicles, we will maintain necessary food supply and energy supply and preserve most of our coastlines for decades to come, but we'll fail in the greatest challenge since the risk of self-ruin by thermonuclear war simply because Western societies have decayed**** just short of true greatness, and turned away from pursuing a grand strategy for smart win-win cooperation in a rules-based world.
Challenges such as atmospheric CO2(-equivalent) content cannot be dealt with without a global appreciation of the utility of cooperation and confidence in major countries' commitment to agreed-upon obligations.

In the end, the Americans who were such a beacon of hope for mankind in 1944-1953 may be the first to blame for global civilizational decay with their aggressiveness rooted in not having had lost a great powers war ever (at least not thoroughly) and the egoism of their Rich who undermined the government / national community with egoism and anarchical ideologies to receive some taxation reprieve for a few decades.
Obviously, some other countries (especially UK, France, Russia, Saudi-Arabia) deserve much blame as well, while the others are mostly guilty of complacence and of being followers on the wrong path.

S O

*: Especially France and the UK disregard international law when it suits them, as well. The whole 1999 Kosovo Air War and Poland's participation in the war of aggression in 2003 add to the picture of Europeans being unreliable defenders of a peaceful international order.
**: The "(...)" part was "In this present crisis", but the anarchist-minded people decided to ignore it and turned the later section into their article of belief, usually granting the military an exception.
***: Thus we'll almost certainly fail to achieve net zero global CO2 equivalent emissions taking thawing permafrost and such into account. We will not stop, much less reverse, climate change a.k.a. global warming before some natural mechanism does it for us. That may take thousands or ten thousands of years, though.
I myself am guilty of believing the mainstream idea during the 90's, thinking that some savings by improved efficiency here and there would suffice as global warming countermeasures. Back then, we would have needed to add a zero emissions technology perspective (solar-hydrogen economy) and major carbon sink efforts (such as special net negative carbon concretes, maybe fertilizing some maritime areas with iron) to the "efficiency gain" route.
So in all fairness, it's not just the cooperation issue that makes us fail, but also the sluggishness of mainstream opinion turning around.
****: I can already hear some European right wingers loudly liking to read this, which is tragic.
They don't realize that their model Russia is de facto at the end state of total decay. Russia fails at science, health achievements, economy, civic development, culture and freedom and European right wingers who embraced Putin's Russia as political ally are nothing short of traitors to their own nation in my mind. They don't fight decay - they embrace it. A barefooted black lesbian couple with green hair loudly chatting in a foreign language on a train is not societal decay; the loss of community and loss of confidence in solving problems together as a nation is societal decay.
Putin doesn't want to save Europe from the gays and the brown-skinned people - he wants it to become as dysfunctional, corrupt and unproductive as Russia already is.
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2019/06/01

Link dump June 2019

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"China's facial recognition at work"
9gag.com/gag/a83Xr31


www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/22/uk-suffers-crushing-defeat-un-vote-chagos-islands

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This reminded me of him:



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Another one from Jeffries:


(She's one of those people who famously seem to cheat time, like Kate Beckinsale, Patrick Stewart, Monica Bellucci, Paul Rudd, Suzanna Hoffs, Avril Lavigne, Jim Parsons, Allyson Hannigan, Christie Brinkley, Lori Loughlin, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.)
 
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There's an easy solution to end the warmongering against Iran and stabilise the Persian Gulf region's northern side for good: Iran needs to enter an alliance with a nuclear power. It could enter an alliance with Russia, with China, with India or major EU powers.

The media makes it look as if Europe couldn't decisively interfere against the warmongering. That's wrong. Europe's power and influence is limited by its own will more than by anything else. 
Admittedly, the cooperation-focused policies in Europe have created a political class ill-suited to deal with sociopaths effectively.

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Hat tip to "An economic sense", an underrated economics blog.
He clearly should have made it into this list, but then again, the very well-known Mankiw didn't either.
My background as economist sometimes lets me write about economics and military affairs issues myself once in a while:

This might be considered really wrong, but I still think the basic issue is a real one because I have this childish-naive notion that things better be sustainable:
 "I'm curious how well this economic opinion will stand the test of time."
So far I'm not too enthusiastic.

Looking back, I must say I did not fully resist the fashionable public debt craze of 2009-2012. I did largely resist the then fashionable calls for austerity (except for the Greek military budget IIRC, but that's a special case as much of the spending goes to imports), though. Another saving grace is that I called for at least some counter-cyclical spending (hastened military procurement and IIRC also infrastructure projects to have some expansionary effect without much influence on long-term public debt).
As a conclusion, I must say my previous (anti-Keynesian) professor for public finance lectures probably still had me influenced with the crowding-out thing that turned out to not matter under the specific circumstances (zero lower bound issue) of 2008-2013. 

I like to cultivate an outside-the-box, non-mainstream attitude and way of thinking, but some of my macroeconomics postings from 2008-mid 2013 weren't nearly as timeless as I hoped my blog posts would prove to be. I still don't think I was wrong, but history didn't exactly prove me correct on the trade balance and public debt alarmism issues, either.

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https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/05/30/after-neoliberalism


What must be said; nothing in there is contrary to economic science. To the contrary, it's exactly what economic research suggests will or does work well. Neoliberalism on the other hand is only partially reconcilable with economic theory and empirical observations. Neoliberalism is based on first order effects in the better cases and utter nonsense in some other cases (the latter category is largely confined to the anglophone world). Stiglitz is no proponent of some radical left wing ideology; he's proposing to make use of what we know about real world economics as opposed to fantasyland economics.
Neoliberalism isn't the origin of all economic evils in the West, though. A couple metrics began a trend for the worse in the 1973-1980 period already. Neoliberalism was probably less harmful with its pursuit of its agenda than by not doing anything about those bad trends.

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Don't fall the anarchists' voodoo economics,
which end up eroding the strength of the nation.

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My pageviews from an arbitrary recent 7-day period (monthly is about 25k):

I have no explanation for why the German share kept dwindling over time. The Russian share is even more confusing - it wasn't nearly this large before and I haven't written anything of special interest to Russians since the Shilka article in February.

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"The present T-34 ammunition capacity is 55 rounds: 5 APCR, 20 armour piercing, 30 HE. This is not enough and only lasts for 1.5-2 hours of battle."
This is a common theme from combat reports and memoirs about tank warfare (which is mostly combat against opposition other than tanks). 30 rds HE and thousands of machinegun rounds lasted for less than 2 hrs in this report. We should expect that 10+ of today's 120 mm HE rounds would be expended in an hour of combat. Resupply of munitions should be considered a most important aspect of tactical combat and operational-level efforts unless it's about pursuit (pursuit is much more about fuel supply and POW handling than about munitions supply).
I'm not informed about the inventories of dedicated 120 mm HE tank rounds such as DM11*, but I have a hunch they would be expended real quick, and then most Western tankers would use the less efficient HEAT supposed multi-purpose rounds against "soft" targets, expending them really quick to get the desired effects. Western MBTs might be downgraded to coaxial 7.62NATO machinegun fires against all soft targets well before the campaign ends.

This old topic did hit a similar spot.

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Sometimes, armed bureaucracy public relations people should better just admit they're clueless, useless and stupid. It would be less disastrous than them trying to do their job.



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I have argued against this myth myself as well. Claims that the durability of a T-34's was a few days does not square with the quantities produced and the inventories in service (thousands) over a span of years.
About 80,000 T-34s were  produced during WW2, and the average inventory was somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 That would lead to them lasting for 1/20th to about 1/30th of the war duration (June 1941 to August 1945 for the USSR) in a first approximation estimate. This leads to a likely average T-34 life of more than two months during WW2 (much of it in storage, transit or training, though). It certainly wasn't a few days, for then they couldn't have trained the tank crews.

My suspicion is that the myth rests on the rumour that T-34s produced in Leningrad during the siege had very short lifespans (some of them were supposedly manned by workers, not tank-trained soldiers). An average durability of few days at the front may have been correct there in 1942. Most T-34s in use were likely used for months, though.
 
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Vote shares among first-time voters
in the election for the European Parliament in Germany

The radical right wingers largely failed in the recent election in Germany; they got more votes than previously (back when their party wasn't overtly xenophobic and nationalistic yet), but less than polls indicated for them if there had been federal elections instead. They got a mere 11% and frankly, I don't see them ever getting past 18% (but then again I didn't expect the FDP strawfire a couple years ago or the recent greens boom past 20% either). There are only so many right wingnuts and protest voters in this country.

The young voters clearly don't see their future in the radical right, and now don't seem to like the formerly huge and dominating conservative and social-democratic parties either.

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[German video]


I may have been too nice to the CDU last time when I diagnosed them to not be radical right wingers on the same slippery slope towards overt authoritarianism. Their chairwoman and designated future chancellor reacted to electoral defeat and Rezo's video with a public statement that can only be interpreted as the wish for censorship against such disagreeable non-traditional media. The previous CDU call for censorship was von der Leyen's anti-constitutional call for internet censorship (with  pedophiles as excuse for the entrance into censorship).
The CDU may not seem so undemocratic as some radical right wing parties because so far it did not feel threatened in its power. Anyway, that chairwoman just disqualified herself from all high offices in my opinion.

I don't think she or the other CDU politicians who got in trouble this week really want censorship. It's less simple, but even more dangerous than that. They think of themselves as the 'good guys', and 'good guys' don't commit atrocities. So by definition they cannot want censorship, as censorship is bad. They just want some etiquette (I wonder why they didn't find this word themselves) that shuts up critics or at least moderates them to the level of harmlessness (taming) that the CDU is used to from newspapers and TV shows.
See? That's not 'censorship'. Just as Americans were the good guys and of course did not torture. They waterboarded, but since Americans are the good guys this meant that waterboarding must not be torture (when Americans do it). It's a slippery slope that unhinges the taboo of being evil. That's even more dangerous than overt agitation in favour of censorship.

"ich wusste nicht dass 70 Jahre Grundgesetz ne Abschiedsfeier war"
("I didn't know that 70 years German constitution was a farewell party)
A youtube comment

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The inability of the CDU to cope with the Youtuber criticism should not surprise**. The other parties would probably not be much better at it.

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[for German speakers] Und nun noch mal in inhaltlich anderer Langform:

Wenn man sich dieses Wahlergebnis und diesen Link hier

(= leider nur ein Beweis von Anekdotenqualität)

ansieht, dann stellt sich hier in der Tat die Frage, ob das jetzt ein tipping point war, also ein Ereignis, bei dem ein scheinbar stabiles System an seiner Unzulänglichkeit kollabiert.

Könnte es wirklich sein, dass die Generation U30 oder gar Generation U40 aufsteht und gegen den Status Quo vorgeht? Es ist kaum ein Geheimnis, dass die Politik sich kaum um Langfristthemen und Jugendinteressen kümmert. Ebenso ist es kein Geheimnis, dass nach ca. 70 bzw. 30 Jahren Bundesrepublik in Politik und Verwaltung alles festgesetzt und kaum noch zu entschiedener Reform fähig zu sein scheint.

Falls das wirklich ein tipping point ist - und bei sowas verschätzt man sich sehr, sehr leicht -, dann wäre eine mögliche Konsequenz, dass wir von einer (abnehmend) programmatisch links-rechts orientierten Politik zu einer jung-alt Orientierung übergehen könnten.
Die alte links-rechts Orientierung der Politik funktioniert ohnehin nicht mehr, seit die SPD in den 90ern nach Lafontaines Wahlniederlage auf Bundesebene neoliberal wurde.

Eine jung-alt Orientierung würde allerdings auch eine urban-rural Spaltung bedeuten. Die bemerkt man in Ostdeutschland (wo Großstädte die einzigen Inseln des Wohlstandes und vorteilhafter Entwicklungen zu sein scheinen) jetzt schon in extremer Form.
Wir würden vielleicht in einer krassen Weise die Entwicklung zur Polarisierung nachholen, die die Amis vollzogen haben. Jetzt muss man wohl hoffen, dass es Russen und Springer Verlag nicht gelingt, hier sowas wie Fox News, rechtsradikales talk radio und Breitbart zu etablieren. Dann stünden uns nämlich einige Jahrzehnte der gesellschaftlichen Selbstvergiftung und dysfunktionaler Politik bevor.

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[for Germans] www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Bundesdatenschuetzer-Kritik-an-Darknet-Gesetz-will-Sicherheitsgesetz-Pause-4425762.html

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S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: The initial order for DM11 was 5,000, which would barely be enough for a single sensible munitions mix combat load per in-use Leopard 2 of the German army. I don't think there was a 2nd order yet.
**: The link shows the average age of party members (not voters) at the end of 2017. 
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