Leopard 2 tanks getting knocked out in Syria


(The action starts at 0:36 min. The huge explosion likely stems from a side penetration by the SACLOS ATGM that reached the front hull munitions storage. A mere 15 quick-to-use rounds can be stored in the safer turret bustle)
The (old) German tanking field manuals that I read strongly implied that the threat (felt like 90% of the threat) was a MBT (T-64, T-72, T-80, but also T-62 and even T-55 well into the 80's). One example; the field manual advised to avoid the middle of a large open field and to instead drive along the edge of woodland. Such a movement is a horrible idea if you fear RPGs, but it's the thing to do if you fear hostile MBTs and ATGMs. Tactics were built on the often only implied assumption that the long-ranged MBTs and ATGMs rather than short-ranged RPGs were the main threat.

The Leopard 2 was devised as a well-rounded duel vehicle to combat tanks. It had great mobility on Central European terrain, great penetration power, and great (though of course not perfect) protection in the frontal 60°. Its reverse gears allowed for quick evacuation of firing positions in a delaying action and its gun depression allowed the exploitation of hull down firing positions in the many rolling hills areas of Central and Southern West Germany. Damaged or broken down tanks were relatively quickly repaired, but the tank was designed to not break down very often anyway. The tank commander had an excellent all-round vision (without head protection), as there wasn't much equipment installed on the rather flat roof. Gunners, drivers and loaders could be 18-month conscripts.
The tank was designed with the defence of Central Europe in mind, with an emphasis on blunting the numerically superior armoured spearheads of the Warsaw Pact. The delaying action against superior numbers was considered to be a very important tactic for attrition of the hostile tank force.

People don't usually seem to be aware of it, but the Cold War Soviet forces and indeed even the late WW2 Soviet forces were rather weak on infantry quantity in the combined arms mix (the Red Army suffered horrible loses in 1941-1945, and was rather bled white by 1945 as was the whole nation till the 60's). That's where the emphasis on artillery and tanks came from. So if you assume a tank- and arty-centric opposition, you expect few infantry forces with RPGs in suitable firing positions. Additionally, the West knew that RPG-2 and RPG-7 were inaccurate (terribly so in crosswind) when it developed the first Chobham tank generation including the Leopard 2. A 30 kph moving tank was at little risk of getting hit by a RPG gunner in a stressful combat situation at 100 m distance.

Now fast forward to the 2000's and 2010's and Chobham generation MBT users find themselves clobbering brown Muslim war bands that are almost devoid of heavy arms and have few ATGMs. MBTs are mostly employed in stationary overwatch missions, or as assault guns. Those wars last years, not months - and troops cannot maintain vigilance indefinitely.
It's as if the Americans hadn't shown that such campaigns are stupid and unproductive. Other powers did the same stupid and unproductive shit in 2015-2019 with no end or gain in sight.

Many of the assumptions of the Leopard 2 design don't apply in such a scenario, and thus the design is suddenly not well-rounded, but rather a mismatch to the mission. Some users rush upgrade kits into service, which adds costs, maintenance demands and mass, and reduces soft soil mobility (which may be decisive on Baltic terrains) and readiness rates.



Drone wars

Artificial intelligence made the biggest steps forward in regard to perception, but also good progress on decision-making. It appears to be feasible to create a small autonomous robot that can accomplish a mission set by 2030.

The combination of autonomous robots with miniaturization may yield autonomous robots the size of small birds with useful performance. 

Small autonomous drones may be very practical for quantity production. Let's assume that such drones become very effective militarily. The result may be that military power in the 2030's may depend first and foremost on the ability to acquire by production or import millions if not tens of millions of autonomous war drones.

This may spell the end for main battle tanks and other line of sight weapons platforms save for high-flying aircraft: A couple thousand or ten thousands of anti-tank guided missiles were incorrectly predicted to make the concept of main battle tanks obsolete, but millions of tank-penetrating drones would almost certainly make line large and expensive of sight combat platforms obsolete.

What would such autonomous war drones look like?

A basic concept would be a kamikaze killer drone. In concept it would be a kind of missile, albeit with loitering and / or waiting ability, possibly also the ability to recharge itself from the environment. It would detect and identify a target, decide to engage, and likely be consumed by the hit. A shaped charge warhead would be used to penetrate vehicles at known weak spots, and a much smaller EFP-style shaped charge could be used to kill individual troops without the need to close in with it the last few metres.

We will no doubt devise and test, if not deploy, numerous countermeasures ranging from netting to drone-hunting drones. So we can expect drones to replay the growing specialisation of military aircraft. Initially, there were observer aircraft, but the urge to kill was great enough to develop ground attack aircraft almost immediately. This created the need for fighter aircraft. Later we added passive electronic reconnaissance aircraft, active electronic warfare (jamming) aircraft (even different types for different wavelengths), refuelling aircraft, transport aircraft, target practice aircraft, decoy aircraft (typically unmanned) and so on.

We might see such a wide range of autonomous drones as well, and in addition to the task specialization we might also have terrain-specialised types. Drones for urban settings, drones for open fields and drones for woodland could benefit from terrain specialisation for low detectability and endurance. Particularly well-equipped military bureaucracies might also include war drones that could submerge in water and thus hide in lakes, ponds and slow-moving rivers - and exploit the underwater stealth for an approach movement. Other drones may be tasked as stay-behind sabotage drones, and hide under leaves, foliage or even in soft soil.

Operational art may become about layering detection and defence against drones, organising supply & stocks, and deploying large swarms of mission-tailored composition to search, probe, push, occupy and finally meticulously clear out defined areas.
Concentrations of drones would be engaged by classic artillery, but other than that the classic trio of infantry, tanks/cavalry and artillery may be replaced by drones.

The first area to become dominated by drones might be mountainous areas, for the classic trio is the least capable there. Artillery has difficulties to hit reverse slopes, infantry move extremely slowly and tanks cannot negotiate much of the terrain.
Meanwhile, drones could handle such terrain quite easily, though flying drones may require enlarged rotors or wings to compensate for the low density atmosphere at altitude.
The last area to become dominated by drones might be urban terrain, as buildings offer many opportunities to restrict the movement of small drones and an army would want to interact with the civilian population rather than just kill.

Autonomous drones would be a novelty, and both the conservatism of the armed bureaucracies and the political desire to not open Pandora's Box too much might delay the build-up of stocks of such hardware. Rapid technological progress might also render stocks obsolete in a few years, possibly reducing their value to that of decoys. That would be another disincentive to a stocks build-up.
The armed bureaucracies would have much disdain for the drone business, as it wouldn't be soldierly, wouldn't follow what the officers were taught when they were till young, armies would need to think like air forces to grasp the matter, the need for most career officers and their skill sets would vanish and so on.
There are thus many reasons to expect a rather slow build-up, even slow R&D. That is, except in nations whose devious leaders seize on such a land warfare revolution as a means to topple the balance of power and succeed with some war(s) of aggression.

Personally, I see little reason to fear robot wars more than human troops wars. We certainly proved that the latter can turn genocidal and easily break societies, nations, if not cultures. To send out drones to kill is no more anonymous than the movement of division markers on Field Marshall Haig's table or the firing of a 155 mm HE shell by a howitzer crew. War drones won't be able to reproduce themselves, so their threat to mankind would be limited by their numbers even if they turn against their human masters.

There's still the Star Trek-ish scenario of fully automated (or simulated) war becoming all-too easy, but don't we have this problem with wars abroad already anyway?

War might finally cease to be much about morale, and become all about readiness and money.






One of the saddest things in life

... is to see a friend join  a bureaucracy and turn from a person who meant to improve the world into a person who is defending processes that are in the way of improving the world.

I had an orientation week when I began university studies. A senior student led the orientation group and assured us that after a certain amount of studying in the field, we would adopt the way of thinking that characterizes the field. I considered the notion repulsive.

Years later, I agreed. It had changed me, it had changed how I approached issues and questions, what tools and methods I used to find solutions. It was kind of the point of doing the studies, for frankly, I forgot much if not most of the content (details) of the studying within weeks after the tests. The lasting effect wasn't about memorizing details.

Organisations and professions can suck you in, absorb you, assimilate you - and turn you into one of them. It's scary, but it depends whether it's a good thing or not. An organisation that's on the wrong track will pull those who enter it onto the wrong track. An organisation that's on a good track may make very good use of such an assimilation power.

The challenge remains to guide an organisation onto a good track (such as serving the country, not itself) before it guides YOU onto its status quo track. 

This suggests that the secret ingredient of reform may lie in keeping enough of a distance to it. A superhuman ability to resist such assimilation was hardly ever observed.

I wrote a lot about how secretaries of defence should guide the armed bureaucracy onto the path of pursuing the national interest instead of self-interest. Such ministers usually turn into champions of the armed bureaucracy's self-interest within a few weeks.

Maybe a different interaction with a lot more spacing may do the trick. We might tweak the responsibilities, tasks and authorities of the office in order to ensure that a minister of defence is considered by others (and by himself/herself) as first and foremost the nation's first critic of the armed services, not as their organisational leader. Failures and embarrassments of the armed services should not be blamed on the minister if the minister criticised them and punished the underperforming part of the bureaucracy and its chain of command. The minister should not identify as part of the armed services community, but as its worst nightmare - a nightmare that keeps it honest and pursuant of national interest rather than self-interest.
Think of it as leadership by sanctioning failure.

disregard the smile
Maybe you readers would consider it excessive, but I think the uniform dress code should include a "pink ballerina skirt" that the minister could add to the obligatory officers uniform of any part of the armed services for any duration on short notice.

I have a hunch that internal red tape could be overcome real quick if we had that.

We should move to a political culture where we would chastise a minister of defence for NOT 'upgrading' the officer dress code like that if the armed service mismanaged procurement, displayed poor readiness, wasted personnel strength on pointless activities, allowed deterioration of skills, or resisted some novelty for too long. 
That kind of political culture might be just enough to ensure that such failures would simply not happen and the skirt would remain a theoretical possibility.

Meanwhile, every minister of defence in the real world of today would consider it an embarrassment to himself or herself if officers were photographed with pink ballerina skirts over their trousers. There's no good reason for it, but that's how we roll. In the end, the fish stinks from the head, and this head is our political culture; it's in what we expect from the civilian leadership. The rot begins at a very fundamental level. Most people appear to think that a minister of defence should work for the armed services rather than for the country.



Fund for World Peace

Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam.
Endless money forms the sinews of war

Mankind spent USD 1.8 trillion on military power in 2018, presumably to keep the peace. It's a tragedy that we're presumably keeping the peace against each other, but there's another interesting thing about this sum:

A tiny fraction of it would probably suffice to create world peace at least between states if reallocated to solely this purpose.

I present you the

Fund for World Peace

The nations of the world pay 1% of their military spending into this fund. Within a few years, the fund grows to well over € 100 billion.

A country under attack would receive as much interest-free credit (due in rates after ten to 20 years) from the FWP as needed for its defence whenever the U.N. General Assembly or the UNSC (disregarding vetoes) condemn a country for a direct or sponsored aggression against another country. All U.N. member countries are required to allow arms exports (save for a couple technologically too sensitive categories) to the defending country.

Still, attacked countries might succumb under assault by an aggressor. The United Nations General Assembly may authorise the use of force to liberate such a country, as happened in the case of Kuwait. The FWP would then offer a bounty for the liberation of the country (costs plus 50%). It would also provide a loan for a credible effort (at negotiated conditions).

The fund would accept emergency loans from countries (at their ten-year bond rates, repayable in ten years) if its liquidity is insufficient to meet its mission.

The effect would be that even great powers such as Russia or the U.S. would be deterred from many potential military aggressions because even small powers would suddenly have the economic means to defend themselves or to liberate nearby occupied countries.

It wouldn't be perfect. The decision-making could be flawed, powers could try to exploit the rule set and some powers might not fear countermeasures because they can threaten the use of nuclear munitions. Still, it would be a powerful deterrent - for a tiny fraction of the current annual expenses.