The next breakthrough in land warfare

It seems as if just abut every army that's thinking about going against some first rate opposition is concerned with at least one of these two fears:
  • hostile air power will oppress you
  • hostile well-aimed quick reaction artillery fires will destroy you
It appears that there's almost no confidence or hope regarding hard kill defences against either.

These fears dominate how armies expect to fight against a first-rate opposition. Land forces would strive to be dispersed almost all the time and hiding almost as much. They may also stock up on carried supplies, expecting that supply lines would be terrorized if not completely shut down by air power.*
This apparent feeling of the reign of firepower may be broken by changes, of course. The 18th century ancien régime way of war in Europe was  stuck in using expensive professional troops with elaborate campaign logistics, and there were few army leaders able to overcome the fear of losing these difficult-to-replace troops, so campaigns were about marching, camping and relatively unbloody sieges (with garrisons usually surrendering right before the final assault).

Then came the French Revolution, and a new model arose; outright conscription created levée en masse for many amateurish troops and the comforts of camps were ditched (including the tents for enlisted personnel!) for greater operational mobility. The tethering on supply depots was given up.
It's already obvious that the current model of all-professional armies is inefficient. It's like having an army of knights on horse and in plate armour, with each five non-combat servants for support. There was never such an army. Cheap infantry (including de facto levies or mercenaries) was always more numerous than the knights and often the support personnel was employed as combat troops as well. There were already dreams of all-mechanised armies in the 1930's (de Gaulle) and some laymen keep dreaming of formations in the field mounted entirely on tracked protected vehicles, but it always proved superior to have a spear: Iron, high quality and high cost spearhead, but most of the spear formed by much softer, less dense and cheaper wood. We eventually saw all horses ditched in fully motorised Western Allied land forces in Western and Southern Europe in 1943-1945 (at least in flatlands), but complete mechanisation was never attempted for cost and logistics reasons.
Now applying this simple insight, the optimal force structure would include much more motorised yet not armoured infantry and scouts (militia, conscripts, volunteers) than present European armies have. Moreover, we could do something that should be obvious, but might still be considered outside-the-box thinking: Hire poor and thus cheap troops from Africa, train them harshly, employ them as quantity infantry to control areas led by European officers and NCOs.
Quantity armies would largely defeat current conventional air power because the ability of air power to deal with a huge quantity of low value targets is poor.  The gold-plated combat aircraft of today are simply not built for this.

A breakthrough against the current paradigm is unlikely to happen during a single war. It would likely happen if we encounter a series of hot conflicts or if one major power gets serious, overcomes conservatism and embarks on a military revolution similar to the founding of Panzer divisions in the 1930's. The Russians (Soviets) did it once with Tukhachevsky's "Deep battle", but proceeded to sabotage the effort soon after.

The fear of air power and artillery firepower will most likely be overcome through some adjustments. The big question is whether we'll overcome it the normal human way or by moving on to autonomous drone armies.

*: There isn't really enough air power to do so except the relatively easy bridge-busting, but the needed civilian drivers might refuse to risk their lives.


Sun Tzu: the Art of War (VII): Maneuvering

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. 
Sun Tzu artist's impression from Qīnggōngdiàn Cánghuàběn
清宮殿藏畫本 / 清宫殿藏画本

VII. Maneuvering

1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign.
This is the primacy of politics over the military. It was violated numerous times, and very often there was no difference between being king or general.

2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.

3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.

4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of deviation.
So this is what's commonly called "operational level of warfare", not "tactics" nowadays. Some people deny that there's any useful difference between both. The difference in tasks between a small unit leader and an army leader in the field (or military theatre commanding officer nowadays) is so great that there's almost no overlap or none at all. This supports the notion that somewhere in between is a good spot for drawing a line. During the world wars this dividing line was IMO just above corps command, whereas nowadays in Europe it would be just below it.
5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous. 
Maneuvering always carries some risks and challenges that can be avoided by static inaction, but it also gets rid of some of the latter's problems. Some armies have attempted to replicate WW2-style rapid tank forces' actions - with very mixed bag results. You need different skill sets as an army for mobile warfare than for static warfare. 

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores. 
There's a famous quote for this:

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
I have read more than just a bit too much about military history, but I don't remember a single such incident. Sure, insufficient scouting led to some armies marching into an ambush, but high marching speeds seem to usually have created more trouble to the enemy than to the rapidly-marching army. So I rate this as an extremely dubious claim by Sun Tzu.

8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.
I doubt that any army ever had this kind of problem on a large scale. Even relatively disorganized armies had small units (clans, village communities) stick together during the march, for sure. Sun Tzu's paragraph does not fit at all into the picture of highly organised ancient Chinese armies that he's creating in the other parts.
There are some issues with rapid marching, of course. Yes, some vehicles break down and stay behind. Yes, some supplies may be left behind. Yes, some marching soldiers may fall ill or injure themselves. It may have become impossible to set up an orderly camp for the night if you extended the duration of a march during daytime. Most importantly, simple exhaustion may degrade the combat ability. 
But again; rapid marching is usually credited in military history with saving the day or causing huge trouble to the opposing forces. The only armies that I know to have fallen apart during rapid marches were armies that were aggressively pursued on a long withdrawal.

9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy, you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will reach the goal.

10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds of your army will arrive.

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.
This had become rather obsolete in the meantime. The Napoleonic army sure had a baggage train, but it revolutionized European land warfare by largely living off the land and using rather little amenities like tents. These were highly situational strengths, certainly weaknesses in Russia.
Modern land forces on the other hand have driven the support and supply dependency to insane levels, to be expected during effectively 75 years without existential hot conflict.

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
Well, this certainly doesn't square well with the extreme durability of NATO, an alliance that persists regardless of circumstances. The designs of the allies kept changing, yet the mere thought of leaving NATO is widely being considered politically extreme if not irresponsible. So far it's difficult to support that disregarding the designs of the allies has incurred much harm. The errorism backlash to American 1990's policies in the Mid East was of marginal harm (the exaggerated allergic reaction to it was much more harmful, though).
13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.
Well, this is obviously outdated (and has been so for a while) in most areas due to modern cartography.

15. In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed. 
I do strongly doubt that the modern knowledge of ancient Chinese dialects suffices to justify the choice of such an uncommon word. This Sun Tzu sentence appears to be devalued by an overly fancy translation.

16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances. 
This sounds completely trivial, but let me tell you about why it isn't:
There was or is in English some talk about the difference between "recon pull" and "command push". The "3GW" crowd preferred the former. I'm not aware of any analogue discussion in German.
The "recon pull" approach requires to first learn about the situation, then decide how to act (repeating this in a cycle over and over) while the "command push" approach emphasises that you may make a plan and then carry it out even without much information or in spite of information about major changes of the situation.
Sun Tzu appears to side with "recon pull".
"Command push" was used much in military history, and often delivered success. Battle plans and marching orders were often drawn up the night before, and the order of battle on the battlefield often times dictated what the army could do during battle and what not. The Battle of Leuctra is a famous example. This approach was often successful or simply the only possible one given the poor communication technologies and poor mobility of dismounted infantry. Nowadays and with small forces in general the "recon pull" approach appears to be preferable most of the time.

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest.

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire, is immovability like a mountain.

19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst your men; when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the benefit of the soldiery.
Well, these advices are pretty much instigations to war crimes nowadays, but they worked more or less well for ages. The Roman Empire eventually ran out of farmland to hand over to retiring legionaries and even gave desolate regions rather to barbaric tribes (foederatii) than to retiring soldiers later on, so the approach appears to have become unsatisfactory somehow.
A share of the war booty during the sacking of cities belonged to the warriors, mercenaries, even 18th century soldiers. Captured ships became prizes for the capturing captain and his crew. This was in part motivating, but also very often a hindrance or detrimental to discipline.
21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move. 
The real question is "how much?".
Sun Tzu is of absolutely no help here.

22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering.

23. The Book of Army Management says: On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags. 
I strongly suppose that "barbarian" people also had useful signals, even if we have written documentations almost only from sophisticated empires.

24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.

25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone. This is the art of handling large masses of men.

26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
It's weird to see Sun Tzu write about nighttime combat, as there are almost no battle reports about ancient battles happening at night. Maybe the similar sophistication of the warring states' armies is the explanation. Roman and early Byzantine armies may have enjoyed an organizational advantage over most opposing forces that would have been devalued by the problems of night combat, leading to them avoiding night battles other than camp defence and maintaining a siege against a sally. The absence of such an asymmetry in ancient pre-imperial China may have made night combat less disadvantageous.
27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

28. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp.

29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods.
This would be a more useful advice if he also told the general how to convince the enemy to wait with battle while your army simply sleeps a bit longer.

30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self-possession. 
I had to look that word up. It means loud noises, especially by disorderly groups. Again, I doubt that the translator can fully justify using such a rather rarely-used word.
Many historical tactics were about provoking and then exploiting a break in the order (and thus readiness) of the opposing force. Sun Tzu seems to rather give an advice towards a dangerously passive behaviour.
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding one's strength.

32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array:--this is the art of studying circumstances.

33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill. 
This is not really the modern way any more. The most dangerous defences are rear slope defences rather than forward slope defences. The reason for this is that whatever you can see on a battlefield you can shoot at, and what you can shoot at will likely be destroyed. To be seen are rarely and as fleetingly as possible is nowadays much more important than whether you can add a fraction of gravity to the force of your spear.
from U.S.Army FM 3-97

34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.

35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
This has largely fallen out of use in large encirclements since 1870 (Battle of Sedan), and a complete and impenetrable encirclement was already attempted at the Battle of Leipzig (1813).
I say the rule of thumb is that attempted decisive and large-scale battles should not leave an escape route, even if it's under fires (see the disappointing operation at Falaise 1944). Meanwhile, if the mission is to quickly eliminate a battalion-sized pocket, go ahead and entice to a breakout attempt where you want it to happen.
37. Such is the art of warfare. 
This chapter may create the impression of being super smart to a casual reader, and a cherrypicker will find something for his use.
It's nevertheless largely falling apart when looked at with military history knowledge and thoroughly. There are some good fragments, but a modern concise writing about the art of manoeuvering land forces would be as much better as the addition of 2,500 years of experiences on multiple continents suggests it should be. There's little reason to respect ancient scholars as authorities on modern land warfare wisdoms.


Link dump November 2020

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The case is settled; Armenia has to withdraw, period.
AFTERWARDS, the right to self-determination of the local Armenian majorities in Azerbaijan should be the hot topic, leading to a referendum and a peaceful redrawing of borders and a bilateral treaty reaffirming minority protections and agreeing on easy border crossings.

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An African-perspective satire

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A reminder that humans are humans, and act according to circumstances. Colonialism's evils were not all that much about race, after all.

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It's no link and not worth a weekly blog post, but I still want to bring one point across:
The public discussion of military affairs appears to be a spiral. Old and long-answered questions arise over and over again, old and long-rejected or long-disproved ideas arise over and over again.
This happens (IMO) much, much less regularly in science fields. The military theory and military hardware writing and publications are obviously insufficient to create a community memory that keeps the community from revisiting old bad ideas (and asking old, long-answered questions) over and over again.
Science solves this with the institution of the senior professor. Senior professors are rarely of any use to propel science forward any more. They are rather a roadblock to that effort. But they do often hold impressive knowledge about old discussions, old questions, old answers, old literature. Junior researchers can easily go to them if they have an idea and get a quick check if something of that kind was tried before.
I understand that the (in most countries very limited) military school systems could in theory have such knowledge, but they have no or almost no such decades-long serving teachers. Moreover, such institutions do nothing for public debates and are badly restricted regarding multinational discourse.

This looks like a system built to ensure everlasting amateurism.
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Archaeologists have found enough fragments of a legionary armour at a dig site related to the  so-called 'Battle of the Teutoburg Forest' (destruction of Varus' three legions). It appears to be a predecessor (and less comprehensive version) of the so-called 'lorica segmentata' (which was more comprehensive).

source: Roland Warzecha, Rebekka Kuiter 
(Much more fragments were found than the one in the picture, we can have confidence in the reconstruction.)

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The Australian SAS appears to have a MUCH bigger discipline problem than the KSK.
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That's right, put the crazies back into their caves of stupidity. They shall not dare to come back into sunlight.
Also, Americans take note: This is how much (IMO most) of the world thinks about you.

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Part of why I don't care all that much about Russian natural gas is that it's going to be of much lesser relevance in 20 years anyway. The last two winters were so mild that I got money back (that I had paid as regular heating bill) due to almost no need for heating (natural gas is the energy carrier of choice for heating urban homes in Germany).

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This is utterly common, and easily predictable. Authorities L O V E to discredit resistance and protest, against them or their actions. The claim that resistance and protests are violent is a most simple way of discrediting such opposition. Moreover, a horde of useful idiots will always jump on this and keep supporting the authorities regardless of their ethical merits - and regardless of how actually violent the authorities' response was.
Any adult who is thinking for himself/herself about politics should be aware of this. To fall for such predictable and unimaginative propaganda is embarrassing.

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