Lessons learned from the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict trickled into the public over the past two months or so, and the picture that formed is one in which electronic warfare (mostly sensing a.k.a. radio direction finding and data processing) and remotely-controlled drones were key assets for Azerbaijan to overcome the Armenian military defence of Nagorno-Karabagh in weeks. Armenia was very heavily armed (and armoured) by the metrics of the 1980's.



(hat tip to anonymous commenter)

and now a funny-sounding video:

The two apparently most important drone types (aside from decoys) were the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, which served in an aerial artillery observer role akin to what was done with light manned aircraft in WW2 and the Israeli IAI Harop, which served as a loitering drone used to search, find and then kamikaze a high value target.

BTW, I believe that the original Harpy (predecessor of Harop) drone was somehow an offspring from a cancelled German kamikaze drone program of the 1980's. I don't accurately remember the designation of it (K-DAR? Kampfdrone Anti-Radar?), but by the looks of it the Israelis either developed something nearly identical-looking by form follows function or they just swapped out the electronics package, which they seem to do a lot when they adopt foreign airframes. 

We have a silly public debate about armed drones in Germany in which the government pretends that it's about Reaper-style observation drones getting munitions to drop, when the topic really should be about such kamikaze drones and especially about autonomous drones. So far the government doesn't introduce armed drones. I suppose the debate is silly because we shouldn't debate whether or not we should play the virtuous ones who don't have such dirty weapons. We should discuss how to keep Pandora's autonomous drones box closed just as NBC munitions have been kept in check pretty well for generations. Pandora's box of kamikaze drones and munitions-dropping drones was already opened in the Second World War and is most unlikely to get closed. I'm not even sure whether it would be a good thing to get rid of kamikaze drones or armed observation drones, for these are a lot more usable for small powers facing hostile air superiority than are manned observation air vehicles. To suppress arms that benefit the weak against the great powers does not look like a good cause to me.

Back to the lessons learned; the obvious counter to remotely controlled drones that need to transmit a video feed (high bandwidth!) or at least series of photos and to receive commands (very low bandwidth) to be of much use is to jam the radio link. Radio physics is tricky, but I still suppose that (radio) line of sight between emitter and receiver is de facto necessary. You can't do everything with the freaky short wave frequencies.

To jam this air-ground link from the ground may sometimes be possible (high mast in very flat terrain or jammer on mountains), but more regularly you'd want to have an airborne jamming emitter. The American way of Warfare would be to pick some huge Boeing or USD 100+ million combat aircraft, and equip it with powerful standoff jammers. 

The German army (or some suppliers, I'm not sure about this) pursued a different concept in the 1990's, and I meant to write about this on basis of an ancient journal article (Soldat und Technik 1/1997) for a very, very long time. The concept was meant to make use of the terribly troubled Brevel observation drone project's airframe and equip it with electronics and antennas to become an airborne RF jammer in at leat the 200...500 MHz band. It was called "Mücke" (midge). (Our principal ground-based jammers Hornisse and Hummel only covered the 1.5...30 MHz and 20...80 MHz frequencies in 1996).

The Mücke project / proposal is so elusive that even secretprojects.co.uk doesn't have a thread about it. It did look (in the article's illustration) 99% like KZO Brevel, just with two stick antennas.

Mücke didn't seem like a good idea at the time, and the German army instead invested in replacing the electronics in our bulletproof 6x6 RF jamming vehicles with something that did not belong into a museum. This was likely much cheaper. Mücke was (according to the article) not really meant to disrupt radio comm between hostile airborne vehicles and ground stations, but to jam general radio comms up to 100 km 'deep' (you know, as if there was some front-line), something that you cannot really do with land vehicle-mounted jammers (except freaky shortwave, which makes RF physics such a mess). The proposal to give every division only 12 drones was a stupid non-starter in face of opposing air defences and fighters.

Mücke would not need to loiter over hostile-controlled ground with the different mission of messing with the video upload of kamikaze and observation drones. The airborne RF jamming drone may finally have a good reason to exist.


A framework for national opinion-finding


The widespread inability to and disinterest in forming the own opinion based on facts has exasperated me for a long time. All humans are imperfect and incapable of perfect logic all the time, but there are avoidable and actually fairly obvious obstacles to good opinion-forming and thus to good decision-making.

Some of these obstacles are cultural and by my limited lifetime experience, they were not as prevalent in the late 20th century. Call me anti-American if you want, but many of the intelligence-trashing cultural obstacles appear to be most intensely applied and followed in the United States where a large fraction of the population is outright preferring to live in fantasyland. Their disdain for actual information and actual reasoning is appalling.

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So I'll lay out a format for how a nation could have a sensible and fair discussion based on known facts with unusually good conditions for reaching opinions based on good faith and known facts. It is in large extent optimised to counter the American bullshitting culture. This format would be very much suitable for a weekly primetime one-hour TV show on a major TV network.

The first thing you need to have is proper fact-checking and an offence database. The fact-checking needs to be reputable and quick. The hosts would choose the fact-checkers, and take responsibility for their choice. The conflicting parties would have no say in this choice.

Second, you need a clear, concise and published rule set that discourages the usual bullshitting culture moves:

  • bad faith arguments
  • hypocrisy
  • attempts to keep a discussion from reaching a conclusion as long as the own side doesn't seem likely to win
  • lies
  • "plausible deniability" cover for lies and other unethical behaviour (dogwhistles)
  • moving goalposts
  • logical fallacies 
  • irrelevant distractions and trivialities

The host selects a topic and gives two conflicting parties (not necessarily political parties; it would also be something like PETA vs. Association of not assholes) few weeks time to prepare and announce their small delegation. Both side begins with an argument-free opening statement of their conclusion and both sides begin with 100 points. The pro-change side begins by making their first (time-limited) argument, and announces how heavily it weighs this arguments in points (example: 10 points weight), but with a limit of maximum 20 points.

The fact checkers check the argument, and if they find bad faith, hypocrisy, lies, disinformation, dogwhistles, logical fallacies, irrelevant or trivialities, this is an instant defeat and they lose all those points (example: -10 points). In case the argument was fine, they don't lose any points but the other side does (example: -10 points). In case of the argument being found to be plain wrong (lies or wrong information, lacking in logical reasoning) they lose the points twice (example: -20 points).

Next, it's the other side's turn. There's a check if any side is at or below zero points after every such round, and if so, the part with less points is declared  to have lost the argument on the issue.

The following week, there will be a one-hour special prime time TV show providing all the real world facts about the issue that the winning side wants to be known to the public (and that can be stuffed into one hour of TV).

  • Lies get punished
  • Bad faith arguments get punished
  • Dogwhistling gets punished.
  • Logical fallacies get punished.
  • Distractions at topics when the other side deserves to score get punished.
  • Hypocrisy gets punished.
  • No moving goalposts or keeping the discussion open indefinitely because of the finite points pool.

And most importantly; any delegation found to have lied will be admonished for lying and be excluded from the show for one year. A liar will be branded a "liar" and banned from not only the TV show, but the entire network for lifetime for the second offence. Known serial liars won't be permitted into the delegation in the first place. Again, the host accepts responsibility for this and has to lay out evidence of serial lying for every proposed but then rejected delegate.

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There are imperfections such as that I found no accurate way for the points to reflect the actual importance of the argument. A party could "win" with 10 rather unimportant arguments while losing against four heavyweight arguments, for example. A way out would be to let the host allocate all or additional points to an argument, but this only moves the imperfection around. Likewise, the factcheckers could fail, and indeed would very likely fail on some very unusual topics. a 17th century factchecker would have gotten ethics of slavery wrong, a 1950's fact checker would have made rulings about gay stuff that would be appalling in the 21st century and so on. There's also a time problem; to give fact checkers much time becomes impractical, and they might be tricked with new lies if they have too little time. The debate that's being concentrated into a two-hour TV show should probably happen over several days' time with a non-disclosure condition until the broadcasting.

Still, a framework that discourages bullshitting culture and reduces it to some rule-tricking efforts that are but a fraction of the unregulated bullshitting would be a huge improvement. Such a framework could also be used in and by large institutions (large corporations, military bureaucracies) to support better decision-making while under attack by one or another bullshitting culture.

We won't have such a Saturday evening TV show. We do need to stem the tide of bullshitting culture, though. It's about time we do something, for the old-fashioned institutions fail against bullshitting culture.





Some old American military history/theory literature admired the "Vorwärtsdrang" of German tank division (and their commanders) in France 1940 at great length, without using this word. "Vorwärtsdrang" has no accurate English translation. It describes the acute urge to move forward.

This was very useful for the spearhead forces of an encirclement movement in 1940-1942. The quicker the advance, the less likely the opposing forces could establish a defence in front of them. Even hasty counters devised by the defenders would be obsolete by the time they can be executed. The correct answer was a proper flank attack well behind the spearhead, but the counterattacks that did happen usually lacked the offensive effectiveness in 1940-1942 and stalled.

Even infantry forces made good use of "Vorwärtsdrang". Capture that hill this evening despite being tired and exhausted and you don't have to do a bloody assault on it against defenders the next morning! This was a recipe for offensive success on the operational level in an age when front-lines with field fortifications were coining land warfare in Europe.

It's not necessarily a good concept for the post-Korean War era.

Front-lines have been very scarce after 1953. The Iraq-Iran War saw front-lines, but they were weak in most places because of the forces:length ratio. There were also relevant front-lines in Lebanon and at the Suez Canal. There's little reason to expect front-lines in Europe, unless Greece and Turkey wage war after all. European warfare rather involves strongpoint/hedgehog defences in long-running wars (Bosnia, Eastern Ukraine). We would likely see mostly highly mobile battlegroups facing each other in a NATO-Russia conflict. There would not be a real front-line until after the main action, during a ceasefire. I repeatedly wrote about that for more than a decade.

What's the use of Vorwärtsdrang when the operational picture is about two overlapping clouds of moving centipedes (mobile battlegroups) rather than about front-lines of infantry divisions in field fortifications interrupted by breakthroughs and breakthrough exploitation/encirclement phases? The urge to move forward would only position your battlegroup deeper, and severe your own lines of communication. There is no mobility advantage of spearhead (tank) forces over the opposing forces. If anything, battlegroups with tracked vehicles are at a road mobility disadvantage compared to all-wheeled formations. Their only technical mobility advantage to be had may be about forced obstacle (narrow river) negotiation (bridgelayer tanks).

Instead, agility, alertness and quick reaction might be the decisive virtues in a modern army. All those battlegroups could be overrun or pushed into an ambush if they don't best the opposing forces by eluding their efforts and positioning themselves for combined efforts to exploit fleeting opportunities.

It was very, very difficult and exceptional to have commanding officers with Vorwärtsdrang in the late 1930's when the paradigm of trench war was still influential and dominant. Today it is very, very difficult to have entire (battalion) battlegroups capable of leaving a bivouac in minutes to elude an attack, to have commanding officers who quick make on-the-spot decisions despite the NATO command staffs culture, to have division- and corps-level commanding officers who leave subordinate battlegroups off the leash to enable their quick decisionmaking. The 2nd and 3rd qualities mentioned can be seen in the campaigns of 1940-1942, but the Vorwärtsdrang in particular seems ill-advised now. It was possible to dominate the opposing forces by breaking their timetables with a quick relentless advance in 1940/41, but now we need something different with the current force structures and sizes. The ability to react quickly (to opportunities or threats) matters a lot more.

Hagiographies of Wehrmacht generals are not helpful for this, as they didn't represent the virtues that were best during and since the Cold War.


P.S.: An example of the kind of literature that I mentioned above is "Bias for action" by Dr. Russel H.S. Stolfi, 1991, written for the USMC and explicitly presenting the exploits of a particular German tank division of 1940/1941 as a good example for 1990's USMC tactical leadership. I've seen more than a dozen such anglophone and also some germanophone books with such conclusions or insinuations.


Self-evident to civilians, still debatable to generals 15 years later

MilPub had a topic on how armies marched into the First World War doctrinally unprepared, despite experiences made with the new smokeless propellant firepower weaponry in the preceding 15 years.

In this light, something else struck me deeply: An ordinary lexicon of technology and its auxiliary sciences published in 1920 featured a summary of artillery experiences made by the German army in the First World War, and concluded

"Für Geschütze der leichten Artillerie, welche in den Nahkampf eingreifen sollen, wird in Zukunft völlige Panzerung und der Kraftzug unbedingt notwendig sein. Dies führt zur Tankartillerie."

("Complete armour and motorisation will be an absolute necessity in the future for guns of the light artillery which shall intervene in close combat. This leads to a tank artillery.")

This basically declared the infantry gun obsolete and declared that assault guns as they appeared in the Second World War would be a necessity.

The author may have had first-hand experience and may actually have been an officer during the war, but he certainly was not an active duty high-ranking officer of the army's artillery branch at the time of the writing.

Yet, despite this civilian's conclusion of 1920, a 1935 memorandum of then-Colonel von Manstein is famous to this day, for he argued for the need to introduce assault guns in it. A later meeting with generals showed that at least one old guard general still believed that horse-drawn infantry guns would suffice.

Eventually, infantry guns proved useful-enough in indirect fires, useful (albeit risky) in some direct fire applications and totally insufficient for keeping  up direct fire HE support for a long or rapid advance in most terrains.

So how could it be that a conclusion that was casually stated in a civilian book (not focused on military affairs) was rehashed 15 years later by an officer corps prodigy and then pushed as an innovative, modern concept that still needed some effort to spread in the army?

I have a hunch that the biggest progress we could make in the sciences in the 21st century could be the discovery of how to make and keep large, old institutions innovative and agile as start-ups. I might be wrong about that, of course. Maybe 22nd century?



Link dump January 2021

That's a misunderstanding. He didn't write about THOSE founding fathers. He wrote about the founding fathers of the Republicon fantasyland. The same fantasyland where racism is only directed against whites, waving Confederate battle flags and revering traitors is patriotic, tax cuts increase economic output and pay for themselves, where the Rich flee when their income is taxed properly, where the constitution is always on Republicons' side even if it says otherwise, where Jesus is the best but none of his teachings are preferred over Leviticus, where only Republicons can legitimately win elections, where liars are upright truth-tellers and an exogenous entity known as "the government" is the problem - not the Rich exploiting the rest of the country to such a degree that 80+% of the working people haven't had substantial real income growth in 30+ years.

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The whole Covid-19 vaccine distribution issue could be used by the European Union to create a strategic partnership with Africa (before the Chinese do). We should have a huge and well-publicized (hybrid online-real) conference with photo ops, press releases, press conferences and all and provide Africa with enough vaccines for the entire continent for the EU's purchasing prices, starting at a reasonable date (say, March 1st).

China could still jump in and attempt to deliver vaccines sooner, but then we could simply tell Africa that this urgency is thanks to our promise and make the African public(s) understand that we played China like a fiddle.

This would require some strategic thought among politicians or top bureaucrats, of course. So I'd be most astonished if it happened.

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