Is or should there be a military "science"?



[ sahy-uhns ]


  1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
  2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
  3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.
  4. systematized knowledge in general.
  5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
  6. a particular branch of knowledge.
(from dictionary.com)

Efforts to turn the study of how wars are waged (and how to do it 'well') into a science had a mixed record in my opinion. The Soviets emphasized it a lot, but what I saw of it was many words with little meaning. Maybe the translations were poor.
There are also some mathematical approaches - in logistics, or the Lanchester equations, for example.
Fortifications became very largely a topic for geometrical thought and design by the 17th century in Europe.

Fortress design became an exercise in geometry,
to ensure flanking fires and to protect critical surfaces
against direct cannon fire for a while
The scientific method is a most promising and extremely successful one. It separates opinion from facts (or sometimes the best known approximation of facts, such as with Newton's mechanics before the relativity theory was found). Its application is worthwhile in all areas of life in my opinion - sometimes quite formal, sometimes rather stealthy. You shouldn't write a mathematical model for a peer-reviewed paper to determine which food your friend loves the most, but a reasonable method for it would end up being compatible with the scientific method: You shouldn't disregard observable results, you shouldn't stick to old opinions after they were falsified in a test and so on. Making notes wouldn't hurt, either.

Economics uses the scientific method and the challenges are somewhat similar to the challenges in military except that we have much more practical activity to observe. Both fields are about intelligent beings in relationships that may be adversarial, cooperative or some often uneasy in-between.
Economics tried for decades to build an encompassing model of how the economy works and why by adding one tiny mosaic stone (tiny models) to another, hoping to explain behaviour as the consequence of many little inputs. Macro results were supposed to be explainable with microfoundations. The research activity was interesting, often enlightening and helpful - but microfoundations fall short of explaining macro results fully. The big meta models had thousands of variables, and still couldn't predict events or reactions to uncommon situations. The mosaic image never became complete (so far), and it may even be growing (thus we might never complete it).
This matters because unlike with a literal mosaic, you may get a completely wrong picture if but one of the critical pieces are missing. The conclusions and recommendations might be 180° off in economics if you forget but one aspect.
That's why those researchers who insisted on looking at macro outcomes directly proved to be rather better at explaining and predicting in the past decade of fairly unusual economic conditions.

I suspect that's what would happen to any attempt to fully explain warfare with a bottom-up approach. There would be many, many small insights, but we wouldn't get the full picture, ever. (It still makes sense to pursue the knowledge about the individual mosaic stones - but such knowledge warrants no high confidence in the conclusions gained. You may still have missed something crucial.)

So we can work on trying to understand warfare through a scientific process, but we would lack data, natural experiment would be very regrettable, most other experiments would be illegal and even a century of research efforts by ten thousands of researchers might not yield a complete picture.

We may be doomed to never get more than the occasional insight from applying the scientific method on tiny areas of the whole. Could looking at the macro level only be helpful in this case? I doubt it. Trivial answers would be easy to come by, but the shortage of data is a crushing shortcoming.

What's left is the scientific method and common sense. Logical reasoning, valuation of observed facts, acceptance of falsifications are important to avoid voodoo military theory. Uncertainty about the conclusions will prevail.
Personally, I also value parallels and patterns highly in absence of proper theories.




Folks, Covid-19 appears to go pandemic.

I'm not the easily scared type, but I am a history buff type. Pandemics happen, and they can be really bad with lethal diseases. Covid-19 has the potential to exceed the lethality of tobacco consumption this year. That's BAD.

The question is not whether it can be contained, but whether we can advantageously slow the pandemic down so our pharmaceutical supplies production capacities and medical services capacities can handle it better. Moreover, we absolutely should slow it down till the flu pandemic is over so we don't have that double stress on the system.

Wear gloves, wash hands, limit skin-to-skin contact, don't sneeze wildly (do it into elbow or quickly-discarded handkerchief), absolutely avoid public handrails/doorknobs and similar touching points in public (also: cash). Seek medical care when you have one of these symptoms:
  • a cough
  • a high temperature
  • shortness of breath
These are also symptoms of (so far) much more common and less lethal or non-lethal diseases, so leave the diagnosis to the medical doctor. Most Covid-19 patients have mild symptoms, but can still infect other people. It's advisable to lower the threshold of doctor visits this year; don't sit out a likely common cold infection on your own in 2020.

The available info about the effectiveness of filter masks is discouraging, but I don't want to discourage their use in case they are found to be worthwhile after all. Already sick people should probably use them (only the kind that has no exhaust valve) to at least reduce their emissions.





[German] https://www.sciencemediacenter.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Fact_Sheets_PDF/FS_Pandemie_Verhalten_CoV.pdf

It appears that some governments have focused their anti-pandemic planning on versions of the flu, with an emphasis on rapid provision of vaccination to the whole population. That's unlikely to help much against Covid-19.
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This is merely my guessing: I suspect UVC lamps will boom soon. They are very likely effective area disinfectants (with side effects that make permanent use impractical). UVC lamps for clearing up an aquarium appear to be rather safe and cheap compared to some other types.



Reactions to tragedies

A lunatic recently killed nine people in Germany. There's no final report, but it appears to have been a political extremist / conspiracy theory nutjob.

The reaction by the minister of the interior was as unimaginative as predictable: He (pretends) that he wants to tighten security in Germany.

I can tell that there wasn't time to draw and evaluate any new lessons learned from this case in such a short time without being an insider, much less come up with any new ideas based on those lessons.

This leaves multiple conclusion options in my opinion:
  1. They failed to do a good job (deserve some blame) and want to do a better job now. As mentioned, there was very little time for such an insight.
  2. They failed to do a good job and just want to seize the moment to do what they wanted to do all along, but lacked the political capital to do.
  3. There's really nothing sensible that could be done to prevent such tragedies altogether. They want to seize the moment to do what they wanted to do all along, but lacked the political capital to do.
  4. The talk of tightened security is security theatre and not serious.
  5. The talk of tightened security is an outright lie.
I suppose it's #3, but I would prefer it to be #4 or #5.

We would ruin our prosperity if we posted armed guards everywhere, and it would still not stop all massacres, as we can observe in countries which have many more guards and still a lot more issues with violence. There is always a residual risk, and an adult is supposed to understand, tolerate and preferably (for his or her own quality of life) ignore it. It's sad that this doesn't appear to be present in the thoughts of people enough: Politicians think they can score political points by pretending that they can create more security with more police, more police powers, more intelligence services powers et cetera.

We should have stopped and rolled back the authoritarians long ago.
image source Dirk Adler
The "hawkish" (authoritarians who are present in nearly all parties in positions of influence) politicians exploit tragedies to push for measures they want. It doesn't matter to them whether the measure would work. A few years ago there was a massacre in France and our "hawkish" politicians immediately leaped to the microphones, demanding that we finally introduce an obligation to internet providers to log internet traffic for months. It didn't matter to them that France actually had such a law at the time, and it hadn't provided the slightest utility against the attack.

So I'll step forward and propose two very different reactions to such tragedies.

1) As a matter of principle, to fight against the encroachment of police state and surveillance state, we move towards liberty rather than authoritarianism after such a tragedy. It's a great opportunity to get rid of some security theatre that obviously did nothing to prevent the attack. The authoritarians salami slice towards police state and surveillance state with every tragedy. Liberals need to salami slice towards freedom with every tragedy that exposed the perfect security illusion.

2) As a matter of deterrence, we should punish the political extremists when one of theirs kills someone in Germany because of extremist hate or other political motives. Examples:
For every person killed in Germany by a xenophobic nutjob we should invite 1,000 additional non-EU foreigners to settle and work in Germany for 10 years.
For every person killed in Germany by a pro-migration nutjob we should refuse 1,0000 additional non-EU foreigners an extension of their stay and if need be have them deported when the legal hospitality expires.
For every person killed in Germany by some nutjob who didn't like a caricature, 1,000,000 sticker copies shall be printed and randomly distributed by mail.
We would have to wait with these retaliations till we're 99% sure about the motivation, of course.
The same kind of response should be applied when German citizens get killed abroad.

The most stupid thing is to allow authoritarians to strangle us millimetre by millimetre, ever more, never rolling their crap back.



Disruptive technologies

Just a couple musings of mine in no particular order:

Hypersonic missiles (SRBM to IRBM equivalents)
I don't think that these are really an indispensable technology to an advanced military. Hypersonic missiles do roughly what can be done with (quasi)ballistic missiles as well, and cruise missiles are another substitute.
Rating: 0

Hypersonic missiles (anti-tank HVM)
I still regard missiles that mimic APFSDS as a thing to pursue instead of putting faith on imaging infrared seeker ATGMs such as Spike & Javelin. Likewise, I don't think that the delayed but apparently revived push for (long) tank guns bigger than 120/125 mm calibre makes much sense. Their advantage is almost entirely limited to greater APFSDS performance, which can be had through a few HVMs. I still prefer a battery of six protected HVMs in combination with a high elevation rapid fire gun in the 75...90 mm range for a succession of the MBT concept. There's still the question about the long-term viability of AFVs, of course.
Rating: +1

Offensive "cyber" warfare
I don't think this is really an indispensable technology, either. It strikes me as something that seems most usable in a kind of cold war, and much less useful in times of hot/actual war. The biggest problem with the pursuit of offensive 'cyber' abilities is that governments will complement such efforts with efforts to weaken the security of electronics products with hidden vulnerabilities. It's the same as with domestic surveillance efforts. The pursuit of offensive ability will likely make us more vulnerable to the same. The net gain (if positive at all) doesn't seem indispensable to me at all. The adverse effect of offensive cyber on defensive cyber goes against the very notion of armed forces securing the nation.
It's trickier if one looks at a small power that doesn't produce much software or hardware, but could do harm through 'offensive cyberwarfare'. The question remains what's the utility in there, though.
Rating: 0

"Stealth" combat aircraft
Radar stealth is but one of many survivability-enhancing technologies and it largely prohibits the exploitation of several other approaches. This can be observed with the relatively limited EW suite of the F-22 and even the F-35 (which has no rearward-facing radar and little jamming capability).
A full appraisal of the benefits of radar stealth requires knowledge beyond publicly available information, but to me it seems as if very low observable characteristics make sense for cruise missiles, but for combat aircraft low observable characteristics (which require much less design restrictions) make the most sense.
Rating: +1 (though whatever 'disruption' potential it had was likely already realised)

Autonomous drones
Autonomous drones appear to me to be the most critical capability, though it might be very preferable to keep this Pandora's Box closed somehow. Small (down to bird-like) autonomous and smart decision-making drones capable of attack and support tasks might revolutionise land and air war in ways that exceed the impact of firearms in their significance.
I don't think that AFV-like autonomous drones will be relevant, though. To slap autonomy onto the nearly unchanged AFV recipe won't be much of a game changer, unlike swarms of millions of small autonomous drones. 
Likewise, countermeasures to autonomous drones will become important and probably the most important feature of battlefield air defences.
Rating: +3

Networks of hundreds of small satellites
The shootdown of a satellite requires an expensive munition or very, very powerful lasers. A network of hundreds of satellites priced at 250,000 € or less (as expected for the StarLink network) could prove very important in a cold war of ideas (in which we really should be superior if we don't fail badly) and still very useful in a hot (actual) war. Such networks could give uncensored internet access to oppressed countries (particularly if we can add a comm laser uplink option that would be hard to detect for oppressive regime forces). This could drastically change the future of mankind and hugely increase Europe's 'soft power' where it matters the most.
The Americans are leading in regard to networks of small satellites, but Europe might catch up, hopefully with less delay than with GPS-Galileo.
Rating: +1

Human body enhancements
Enhancements of physiology and 'cyborg'-ish technology like exoskeletons could improve the performance of troops, and this would not be limited to infantry and dismounted scouts. Enhanced motivation and reduced need for sleep could have huge advantages in support tasks as well. The benefits of human body enhancements for combat and scout troops would be diminished with the arrival of small autonomous drones anyway.
Rating: +1

LOL, no.
Rating: -3

Destructive Lasers
I suspect they may become a complement to missiles and maybe guns, but their diminished performance in adverse weather makes them unreliable. The resulting duplicity of spending on both lasers and missiles will likely turn out to be inferior to an all-missiles approach. Anti-satellite lasers might be an exception.
We might add a couple destructive lasers to our arsenal to burden threat forces with destructive laser countermeasures, though.
Rating: 0

Additional electronics to AFVs
I suspect that combat AFVs have become so horribly expensive that (just as attack helicopters) they'll sooner or later fall from favour. See small autonomous drones.
We will likely preserve some means of passive protection for vehicles, but I don't think we'll see cost-efficient line-of-sight combat AFVs (duel situation AFVs) in the 2040's. A new MBT or MBT successor would IMO be a design for the 2030's at best.
Rating: 0

Cloud computing
LOL, no.
Rating: -3

Low support requirements
A hugely disruptive development would be a force design that greatly increases the share of combatants and greatly reduces their appetite for supplies. This is conditional on a delay of autonomous small drones, of course.
Today's armed forces consist of few teeth and many, many support efforts. Less than a thousand personnel of a 4,000 personnel brigade are meant to face hostiles in line of sight, and that's supposed to be the combat formation. Combat formations have but a small share of an army's personnel.
An approach to land warfare in which 70% of the personnel are scouts or combat troops could likely overrun a modern, more 'sophisticated' force of the same personnel strength but much greater budget. This would only work till the latter has added such a presumably 'low tech' component to itself, of course.
There was widespread interest in such low support requirements concepts in the 70's and 80's, but nowadays it appears that Western army establishments have a consensus that only other, irregular, forces can operate in this way. We haven't faced a truly effective force of that kind (unlike the Russians in the First Chechen War), so there's little respect for it and little interest in adopting this as a capability.
The time window for the approach may soon close due to -again- small autonomous drones anyway.
Rating: +1

New, supposedly more "usable" nukes
I don't think they'll even only be cost-efficient compared to using a larger quantity of conventional munitions and the idea of making nukes "usable" seems like a terrible slippery slope risk to me anyway.
Rating: -2

Further top-down delegation of decision-making (not quite a technology)
Autonomous drones are an extreme case of delegating decision-making to lower levels. There are other opportunities for this, and all of them run against an officers-led army bureaucracy's self-interest. We could largely dispense with the work of (corps/division/brigade) staffs and empower junior leaders further. This might in turn lead to junior leaders not being so young and inexperienced any more, as their role would be elevated by much. 
A preferred approach of mine is to hand down merely vague, area-related orders to manoeuvre forces commanders and let them figure out (in cooperation with adjacent leaders if needed) how to accomplish their mission (and when to give up on it and report that). Two manoeuvre elements could even temporarily unite for an action and split up again without any superior HQ ordering any such thing.
Such further decentralised decision-making could also carry over to the age of autonomous drones, when superior HQs merely allocate hardware to areas and set ambition levels or other missions to the forces in ad hoc designated areas.
Drone micromanagement - with superior HQ desiring to "look" through the "eyes" of individual drones and intervene in their actions - will be a non-starter in the autonomous drone age anyway. The reliable and secure communication bandwidth requirements would be an unacceptable burden. It would sabotage the benefits of autonomy.
Rating: +3



Musings about why I dare to voice dissent (so regularly)

I wrote something along these lines before: It would be a phenomenal achievement if I was 51% of the time correct whenever I criticize and bring forward a very unconventional proposal. Even 20% would be quite a feat and make the blog a super worthwhile read.

Why do I dare to publicly dissent on topics where I am (and have been for a long time at least) an outsider, without (much) confidential info at hand?

I can hardly ever point to a comprehensive operational research, wargame or other conventional means of justifying conclusions on military matters. I cannot claim to have superior yet secret information. 

Why do I dare to dissent?

My justification is about parallels and systemic issues.
They show at least that I could be correct.

Military history shows that military insiders (professional experts) are wrong much of the time, and even in disagreement (which by logic means not all of them can be correct).  Many wars have been fought with every single party entering the war with wrong ideas, and we even know of armed bureaucracies drawing wrong conclusions from years-long wars they participated in. 
The fallibility of the insider experts and the armed bureaucracy's leadership can be considered proven by overwhelming indirect evidence historical analogies if nothing else.
Outsiders on the other hand have occasionally proved to have superior insights. Jan Gotlib Bloch was a spectacular example; he got early 20th century warfare between industrialised nations more right than some European armies a year into the actual First World War (then "Great War").

Systemic issues:
I am using established theories to argue that systemic bias leads the armed bureaucracies astray from the optimum. Examples are:
  • Niskanen's budget-optimising bureaucrat
  • principal-agent problem
  • path dependencies
These three actually quite simple ideas are extremely versatile, pervasive, powerful. You can apply them almost everywhere. Sadly, the real world phenomena described by these models lead to inefficiencies everywhere.

And then there's my experience that most officers are actually not terribly bright, not really creative (especially not the senior ranks), usually terribly impaired by group think, some of them aren't all that much interested in or passionate about their job and most of all, they are rarely very knowledgeable on military affairs beyond what they were taught or experienced themselves.
I estimate no more than 50...100 German active duty officers exceed my military history knowledge*, and probably none of them also exceeds my military technology knowledge* or my foreign army doctrine knowledge*. I may be utterly wrong about this, but how likely is it that anyone who actually exceeds me on both counts is also extremely effective at shaping the structure and doctrine of the Heer or Luftwaffe?
There are people who are better-suited to blog about the issues I am covering, but I don't see them doing it.

It's imaginable that I am about correct in a worthwhile amount of blog posts.
So that's why I dare to dissent.



*: A subjective statement, for we don't know how to quantify and thus compare such knowledge. I suppose my point is still understandable.


Link drop Feb 2020


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The big issue isn't that this one kills many people. The flu kills many more in parallel. The big issue is that this one isn't understood yet and might actually be much worse than the flu. At least the mortality rate appears to be no more than a couple per cent so far.
A 'couple per cent' such as 3% could still kill more than both World Wars combined when the infectiousness allows it to overrun the world. That's why contagiousness is so important. Sick people being able to infect others without showing symptoms devalues many containment schemes, and to date it's still not known for certain how exactly the virus can be transmitted. There's a very small chance that it may be airborne.

I suppose the wealthy Western countries will be able to deal with it even though we don't have a culture of wearing face masks to protect others.

Poor countries on the other hand have much less capacity to deal with outbreaks, and might not get much aid if we need our resources for ourselves.

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"camo is gender neutral"

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Lots of tensions and much economic damage, for no gain.

Foreign policy that promotes and respects international law and uses win-win cooperation as the standard operating procedure may be opaque, boring and devoid of spectacular events. Still, loud mouth low IQ bully foreign policy is a spectacular failure by comparison.

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I wrote about this before. The U.S.Army is the epitome of procurement incompetence in regard to armoured vehicles for combat and helicopters. All attention on their programs is misplaced, as they get cancelled anyway. The maximum the U.S. Army AFV efforts can create are MRAPs and Frankenstein's monsters à la M109A7.

The USMC rivals them in their incompetence. They're flying modified Vietnam era helicopters and have been unable to replace an amphibious Vietnam-era APC despite near-constant efforts.

The USN hasn't devised a truly good ship class since the Arleigh Burke design of the 1980's, and that one was based on the questionable premise that AEGIS with its semi-active radar homing missiles and dependence on huge shipborne radars rather than emphasising AEW made much sense. Their design also started off without a helicopter hangar. So even that supposed success story is a mixed one.

That leaves the USAF. The C-17 was never necessary, the C-5 design could have done the same job. C-130J was just barely a successful upgrade. The 135 series replacement was no show of great competence to say the least. The F-22 was essentially an 80s/90s effort and a mixed success - the aircraft is still unnecessary to this day. It would thoroughly surprise me if the F-35 story turns out to be successful. It sure doesn't match the early expectations well.

All that (procurement) incompetence nullifies much of American military spending. It should also inform the rest of the world - and Europe in particular - to not expect the Americans to advance military tech by much. They don't advance platform concepts. There are advances in munitions and electronics, but we would stagnate if we relied on the Americans to advance platform concept technology for NATO.

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"77% of Americans surveyed can't find Iran on a map"

That's just business as usual.

The support for killing a foreign general without the state of war was higher than the ability to locate the country on a map. I suppose that at some point, one has to ask whether the president is the threat to peace or the people as a group. Such polls sure point in the latter direction.

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German newspapers are reporting about an official government report that the Bundeswehr didn't improve in its problem areas much. This despite an extreme increase of military spending; plus a quarter from 2013 to 2018 alone.
Quelle surprise! Other countries had similar experiences. The readiness problem was never a fiscal problem. The bureaucracy has become rigid and its leadership is self-serving. There hasn't been a strong civilian leadership that forces them onto a path of pursuing national interest rather than self-interest.
To throw more money at them solves nothing. Sadly, that's all the current 'top politicians' are capable of - and the job of secretary of defence is rather a toxic waste dump than one for which the best possible candidate is selected.