Sun Tzu: The Art of War (I) Laying plans

I will use this easily accessible translation version
to comment on the Art of War, and I will pretend that Sun Tzu was indeed a historical person.

I. Laying Plans

1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.
The background to this was a struggle of a few large states that later led to the formation of an empire. The art of war was vital to those states (of which only one succeeded, of course) in this particular case and because they found no diplomatic way to co-exist or join. This includes them not being able to form a deterring and thus stabilising alliance.
There are many countries today - no doubt "states" - that have no need for military power or the art of war and rather suffer under their own military (via its expenses and sometimes military dictatorships). The art of war furthermore seems to have taken a backseat to a primacy of politics and also to  overwhelming resources.

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.
The same applies. I rather view the art of war as a skill to make efficient use of allocated resources for the purposes of deterrence and defence. Today, the only "life and death" question for almost all NATO countries is whether they will be bombarded with thermonuclear warheads. The art of war doesn't do anything about this. To the Maledives, the only "life and death" questions are how quickly the Indian Ocean sea level rises and whether there's going to be a big tsunami.

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.
We would call this 'national cohesion'. Nation states can weaken their cohesion by allowing politics of hate and division to drive wedges between citizens. Ethnic groupings and religious groupings may also drive such wedges.

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.
The U.S. Army uses the "METT-TC" concept. Mission, enemy, terrain, troops available, time and civilian considerations. Formation and unit leaders are supposed to remember and take into consideration these when making tactical decisions. "terrain" and "time" encapsulate what Master Tzu wrote there. Campaigns could be year-round in the Southern Chinese Mediterranean climate, but Northern China is cool enough to allow pre-modern campaigning only during part of the year. Campaign seasons were a very important concept in ancient and medieval times. The correct timing could allow your army to sabotage the harvest of the enemy, or to make use of it for its own nourishment.

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.
Rome and the Chinese warring states were probably the only other power this advanced at the time. The Greeks understood the concept of proper roads only once the Romans ruled them, for example.
Even as late of WW2 some generals were so tactically-minded that they did not pay enough attention to maintaining a steady and sufficient flow of supplies. Their too hasty advances often ended up stalling for want of supply rather than because of some newly-established defensive line. CvC described this with the 'cuminating point of attack'.
"[T]he control of military expenditure" is  certainly an area in which disastrous incompetence is rampant in modern armed forces, not exclusively in those pampered with lavish budgets.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.
And there's a huge grey zone in between as well as cases of symmetry (both opposing generals heed the advice or fail to do so entirely), but The Art of War does not provide any specific formula for odds of victory. Such absolute statements are all figurative, more an indication of trend than really a law of war.
12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:--

13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? (4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (5) Which army is stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
The modern, math-educated mind misses a weighting of these factors. "The Art of War" was not written for mathematical certainty. It was seemingly written to force a learning officer to think himself, and to think about what matters to military success.

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.
Well, no, you cannot. For starters, guerilla wars largely elude his criteria. Only the "moral law" thing still matters to them.

15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:--let such a one be dismissed!
This is nowadays known as "zero defect tolerance", and a stupid concept in personnel affairs. Past performance does not indicate future performance more reliably than some other ways of judging competence. Frederick the Great lost and ran from his first battle, which was then saved by his veteran 2nd in command.
Strict adherence to a doctrine is also largely frowned upon today, and for good reasons.

16. While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.
It is widely understood that plans hardly ever become enacted 1:1. Changes get forced upon campaign and battle leaders all the time. Yet there's also patience required. Particularly early reports are unreliable and don't help much to understand the greater picture. A German field marshal once left his HQ when his operation launched and had a solo walk in the green. The reports of the first hours would be useless to his level of command anyway. His staff would have to form a situation picture over time, and he himself should not risk creating an immovable opinion early on.

18. All warfare is based on deception.
Not really, but often times it would help a bit to add deception. The real advantage behind deception is mostly the provocation of surprise. Surprise again is mostly about coming to a fight ready for combat when and where your opponent isn't. Armed forces cannot keep up high readiness for battle for long. 

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
This is exceedingly risky. To feign disorder risks a rout. Moreover, you don't know what information reaches the opposing leadership and it would be advisable to rather try to (almost) blind it than to fool it. 
The steppe armies of Central Asia practised such feigned retreats and ambushes / surprise counterattacks a lot. There were rather few other examples of feigned disorder-ambushes in military history. It's simply too dangerous.

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
There is no need to evade superior strength. Many tactics have been devised that allow successful combat against a superior force, even if a superior portion of said hostile force gets involved in the action. The element of surprise is a particularly useful one, but terrain advantages and dissimilar forces were also often used to very good effect (see Agincourt). To evade a superior force without a prospect of getting more reinforcements and having less attrition than the opponent equals a surrender.

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
Again, pretending to be weak may fool your own forces as well, and risk a morale collapse. Not all forms of choleric temper are susceptible to hostile irritations. Some people get choleric when their own team fails, but stay calm when the other team does well on its own account.

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
Pursuit proved to be the really devastating action compared to many if not most historical battles. It was often times possible to force an opposing army to yield the battlefield with little losses, and then to exploit its shattered order with a relentless pursuit usually by cavalry.
It's often overlooked that cavalry justified its existence in the age of blackpowder more with pursuit, scouting and security tasks than by battlefield effect. The latter was indeed usually poor since the 16th century.
To separate hostile forces or to even only keep them separated proved difficult throughout military history. Many armies were led by a single prince or general who did not want to detach much of his force. Frederick the Great and later CvC created maxims to the effect that you should have your forces concentrated for battle.

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
This is about readiness for battle, and also about the element of surprise. Military history has many examples of successful surprise by an unlikely choice of a route (see Hannibal's Alps crossing or the executed version of Fall Gelb, for example). There is a kind of bias in this, though. The great many failed smart ideas to surprise by going a difficult route do not get as much attention. There are actually books exclusively about military blunders, and I found them to be more interesting than books about plans that worked out well.

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
Plain OPSEC; this should be a trivial idea.

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. 
One should remember that planning a campaign was a much less planning-intensive affair then than now. It's plain wrong to apply this advice without taking into account the context. Sun Tzu warned against planning too little, but no man of his time could have imagined the amount of planning and its details that a modern brigade, division or corps staff could do if its commanding officer demands a thorough planning preparation. Some things that were utterly self-evident then are no more today. The means of an army leader to micromanage supplies or troop movements and even fires today allow too much planning and too much micromanagement.
see also defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2011/07/



There is now a state piracy problem in the Atlantic, apparently


There is no United Nations resolution authorising this. It was pointed out that they might have had permission by the flag country, but the Department of Justice statement doesn't mention it, pretending instead that all authorization needed was from U.S. courts. That's not how it works in international waters, though. There is no reasonable doubt that the tankers were captured outside of U.S. territorial waters.

As far as I can tell, these were acts of piracy if there was no permission by the flag state (Liberia).

The U.S. government already confessed.

Now it appears that the officers of the apparently pirating ships involved as well as their chain of command upwards could be hunted with international arrest warrants through Interpol and arrested for piracy, even be extradited for due process and jail time. That's not going to happen, but as far as I can tell it's a legal possibility. I would not travel abroad if I was captain of one of the seemingly pirating ships.


P.S.: In case the first link gets deleted;


Kleptocratic-plutocratic stagnation

Russia's economy is crap because its government dos not provide and enforce a rule of law. You might build up a successful small business there, but some day an oligarch will send an offer to purchase your business far below value. You may refuse, but then the corrupt government will wage war against the business, you'd get into trouble for tax issues even if there are none, business partners wills top doing business for you, the government won't buy anything from you any more, the business will come into conflict with authorities over a multitude of petty things and if nothing works, you'll go to jail for some reason. The oligarch will eventually take over your business, if need be after the government seized it. It won't be well-run afterwards, of course.

That's basically the reason why Russia hasn't much to offer besides exploiting natural resources and Soviet legacy stuff (selling arms and replacement gas turbines). Russia is stagnating and decaying. Its economic and political models are a gross failure. Whatever economic growth Russia had in the past twenty years was about commodity prices related to their exploitation of natural resources.

Western countries don't behave like this. Even Hungary doesn't.

This, by the way, means that I don't count the United States as a Western country, for its government now DOES such things. It bends laws well beyond their meaning, arbitrarily threatening businesses, including businesses in the United States itself.

The U.S. are on path to a 'controlled democracy' with federal election results manipulated according to the will of the head of state, and a plutocracy moving towards oligarchy. Ah yes, and Fascism.

See for yourself
That's "crony capitalism".

The 'controlled democracy' part? Well, fearmongering, hatemongering, lying, packing courts, gerrymandering, voter suppression and calling for/welcoming foreign government interference in American elections don't suffice the American right wing to win any more. Now they're moving to corrupt and degrade the United States Postal Service* (which is a mandated Federal government function by force of the constitution) so the mail-in ballot vote can be suppressed and manipulated.
The constitution mandates that the president's and vice president's time in office ends on January 20th, 2021.** They can only stay in office if their re-election is official. There are now substantial and founded doubts that such a peaceful transition of power is going to happen.

By the way; the only two economic policies of the American right wing that really work (in the real world, not just in their fantasy) are exploitation of natural resources (drill baby, drill!) and fiscal stimulus by federal budget deficit. Both require no governing or economic competence whatsoever, and both are laden with often undesirable side effects.


*: The sabotage of the USPS began in 2006, then presumably because no billionaire or millionaire can make profit off the postal service as long as it's public, not private for-profit.
**: The then almost certainly left-wing speaker of the House of Representatives (presumed to be Pelosi) would become president if the election result is still not official at that time.

Psychology of the wedge

Both infantry and cavalry historically used a wedge formation (or conceptually similar rhomboid formation) to attacked defenders in field battles. The cavalry version may have been a Scythian invention regarding its use in Europe. It only fell out of favour during the 17th century as far as I can tell. This approximately triangle-shaped attack formation was so effective, simple and popular that even forces not usually credited with very high tactical sophistication such as Germanic tribes from early Roman Empire era used it.
artist's impression (c) PCasal
I have never seen any indication that such an attack formation needed particularly fearsome warriors or soldiers or particularly large horses, heavy armour and so on in its tip.
As far as I can tell, the effectiveness relied on the survival instinct of those targeted by the wedge tip: They feared to be unable to resist such an onslaught, and evaded sidewards or fled to the rear. The tip was instrumental in suggesting to the defenders that evading sidewards is possible and improves their chance of survival. This again meant that the perceived relation between wedge angle and wedge charge speed was an important factor.* A too broad wedge (or a blunt attacking bloc) would not allow for evasion by sidewards motion.

The wedge's breakthrough at the created gap enabled a subsequent attack to the left and right. This again led to additional defenders in the line feeling encircled and breaking. (It also weakened the wedge, which made it harder to penetrate two lines in one push.)

There were numerous possible countermeasures; a deep-enough phalanx, deep-enough pike block, a second line of defence or charge-stalling obstacles such as mud, caltrops or spikes in the ground. An incredibly disciplined infantry (legionaries) could also stop a wedge at times. Missile effects by archers, slingers, crossbowmen or ballista do not seem to have been reliable enough at stopping a wedge assault.
This appears to have changed by the 17th century, as muskets, arquebus and field artillery offered so much firepower (and fearsome side effects) that wedge attacks disappear from military history as far as I know**. Even cavalry seemed to not have used it any more. The new standard for cavalry charges*** was to have "heavy" cavalry (blade riders mostly, trained for formation manoeuvres) attack as a first line followed by rather disorderly light cavalry****. Even such cavalry charges were rather limited to cavalry-on-cavalry charges, though.

It appears that the combined firepower was capable to collapse the wedge's tip, blunting it and transforming it into a general charge. That was still fearsome, but also often suicidal in face of pikes and firearms. The wedge did not make a return to the battlefield when infantry combat became linear again in the early 18th century with the rise of practical bayonets and every-infantryman-a-fusilier armies.
The closest approximation was the Revolutionary French and Napoleonic French attack column, which forfeited the angled tip right away.
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The use of fearsome formations and equivalent psychological impressions may still hold tactical value in land warfare. The principal problem for this is that the battlefield needs to be 'empty'; any visible forces can be shot at and destroyed, so they remain hidden from enemy sight for almost all the time. The visible shape of a formation can thus hardly be used in normal territory to influence a defender's mind.
We CAN aim for equivalent psychological effects with
  • noises (such as causing tank panic with tracked vehicles even if no decisive tank force is present),
  • timing of impressions (the arrival of reinforcements has proved morally devastating to the enemy in battle time and time again),
  • equivalents to rolling barrages that suggest to the defenders that their position will be hit soon,
  • direction of impressions (even noises of friendly tank reinforcements from behind can devastate morale) and 
  • the feeling of isolation (jamming radio links, severing lines of sight to friendlies with smoke).

*: This should be taken into account when we read that for example Byzantine heavy cavalry did not charge at gallop speed at least until it met the Normans, who did so in Italy. It appears to me that the Normans preferred a brutish yet blunt gallop charge and this proved superior at the time and place.
**: They also disappeared in conflicts where pikes were not plentiful as far as I know.
***: This was after the weird pistoleer caracole (partially armoured horsemen firing pistols at infantry formations in a kind of Cantabrian circle movement) interlude.
****: Light cavalry eventually became trained in formation manoeuvres on the battlefield like heavy cavalry beginning in the 2nd half of 18th century, which led to a de facto unified standard cavalry after the Napoleonic Era.


Recent scandals in the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has 184,000 active personnel. Some of them are bound to not meet expectations and requirements. A handful of extremists and nutjobs are to be expected in such a large personnel pool.
There are higher expectations regarding officers and NCOs Feldwebel or higher, but I understand the requirements for a Feldwebel career have been eroded by the 1990's already. Some bad apples may even make it to officer rank, though at the very least the professional (not limited time volunteer) officers should NOT be extremists or nutjobs, for the organisation has seen them in action for 12 years already. 
I don't blame anyone for having a decoration MP 40 in his room, either. Yes, that gun was introduced and used by the Wehrmacht (nazified German military 1935-1945). So was the MG42 as well, but we re-labelled it "MG3" and continue to use it to this day despite its obsolescence.* So was the P38 pistol as well, and we re-labelled it "P1" and used it well into the 1990's. And then there's the K98 - iconic rifle of the Wehrmacht (based on a very late 19th century design) and still in ceremonial use. Our federal government literally greets foreign dignitaries with soldiers handling the K98. A MP 40 is an ugly and tasteless decoration, but otherwise nothing bad in itself.
There IS a limit, though. Extremists and nutjobs that were recognised as such and not removed over years despite multiple officers knowing? THAT is a systemic issue. It's not necessarily a Bundeswehr-wide systemic issue, but it's unforgivable and should have severe consequences. A systemic issue means that the bureaucracy should be punished, not just individuals. The bureaucracy should be conditioned to fear to NOT intervene against nutjobs and extremists. I've read that the disbanding of a company was considered the ultimate humiliation. Oh boy, whoever claimed so has no concept of my creativity in such a regard. I would have dragged hundreds of senior officers to an event where they get to stand at attention for hours like recruits, and watch not just a final "Zapfenstreich" disbanding ceremony. They would watch a defilement of the unit. Scratch that, I would have the entire formation defiled and disbanded in shame. And I would let them know that this won't be the last such event if they ever dare to not do their job to minimum requirements.
Having mentioned this; I would not disband the KSK for its scandals. I would disband the KSK for having been a stupid concept and appalling waste of resources all along. That, too, deserves defilement to punish the bureaucracy.

*: Too heavy, very suboptimal rate of fire, no proper mounting for a night sight or magnifying sight, changing the hot barrel requires protective gloves. There were machinegun designs without these faults even before the MG 42 was invented.


Link drop August 2020

Chainmail is officially back in mainstream. ;-)

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Normally one should be careful with such things, but it's glaringly obvious that I would have been able to devise a better policy using only OSINT and a few hours of attention per week than this bunch of incompetents and their lying moron cult leader.

I have zero confidence that this bunch of morons would find appropriate, timely and smart answers to a dangerous international crisis. A thing no one needs to be careful about is the diagnosis that my zero confidence is shared by most governments in NATO, by India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. I can't tell about Australia or the UK, for their prime ministers have already revealed themselves to be all-too similar.

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The best American anti-tank missile is the Javelin, which is a 1980's design known to Russians since the 1980's, introduced into service in the mid-1990's and I strongly suppose that it would be a terrible disappointment in a European war because of effective countermeasures. The similar (yet conceptually improved) Israeli Spike missile has a lot of sales successes. The German army still hopes to finally purchase relevant quantities of EuroSpike missiles to 'modernise' its anti-tank arsenal.

Now why is this infrared camera head-guided missile concept being treated as state-of-the-art? I strongly suspect because it's the best the Americans have for infantry AT work, and their PR dominates public perceptions on military technology.

Some possible countermeasures to such missiles are figuratively and literally nebulous; quick-deploying multispectral smoke. Here
is a gold-plated and quite threat-specific countermeasure. Maybe its existence is the kind of argument needed to overcome the risky belief and reliance on IIR-guided ATGMs.

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"Defund the Pentagon [by a mere 10%]: The conservative case"

"Defund the Pentagon [by a mere 10%]: The liberal case"

Context: The Pentagon budget was bloated by much more than inflation + 11% since the last Obama-administration budget.

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Math education for the win!

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It's surprising to me that they did not add an infrared camera sensor for (better) sensor fusion.
The enlarged range appears to be unnecessary, as shipborne air defences don't reach far if not supported by third party (such as AEW) targeting data. Anti-ship missiles have notorious targeting issues at long ranges because even the slow movement of ships (usually 10...15 m/s) allows for much movement and changes of the formation during the time of flight. The ASM-3's supersonic cruise speed reduces the time of flight, but a supersonic cruise requires a hefty price to pay. The missile needs to be much bigger, heavier, more expensive and is heated up by air friction due to the supersonic cruise.
The Russians developed at least one two-stage anti-ship missiles with a subsonic cruise stage and a supersonic terminal stage. This offers the supersonic speed advantages against defences without the costs of supersonic cruise.
I don't see much or any need for extremely long anti-ship missile ranges. 100 km sea skimming cruise is plenty, even assuming that 30 km or so are for course corrections and repeated approaches after falling for false targets.

A mix of supersonic and subsonic (which would tend to fly a few metres lower*) terminal approach speed and also different sensors makes sense in an arsenal because of uncertainty about what works best.

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By the way; I missed to announce the passing of a milestone. The blog has now over 10,000 comments (it's about 10,250).


*: Radar physics are tricky. It's not necessarily better to fly those few metres lower, but having the option is nice to have, especially if the missile has an X/Ku band  radio receiver.