Ten options when facing a threat of specific geographic origin (II)

.continuing from part I

(warning; long wall of text)

Let's remember the ten options* first:
  1. Economic attack
  2. Base strike
  3. Cordoning
  4. Mobile warfare
  5. Hunting patrols
  6. Convoying
  7. Secured zones
  8. Shadowing
  9. Infrastructure attack 
  10. Enduring the problem
Military history knows many examples, but they were not always used in the same mix, or with the same success. Inferior powers had to use or emphasize different options than superior ones. Terrain was very influential, as was technology and industrial support.
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I'm concerned that we in the West are in part wasting resources by following obsolete paths, using an obsolete mix and structure of options to counter threats.

The expected shortness of WW3 led to an underappreciation of #1, economic attack. The one big exception is the campaign to keep small powers from acquiring or adding to a nuclear arsenal. The Western or American economic sanctions likely do just about nothing against Russia or PRC that would be important in a future hot conflict. Economic warfare against the opposing forces did not play much of a role in the years-long and even decades-long wars of occupation beyond mere interception of arms and munitions deliveries. Much more could have been done by targeting the economics of the warlords who had to pay at least the mobile part of their forces and for some arms buys.

Base strike is widely appreciated, but it won't help against threats without a clear geographic origin. An army of a million quadcopter kamikaze drones launched from shipping containers is not going to be countered by strikes on airbases or barracks. NATO paid much attention to cratering airbase runways until precision-guided bombs finally made direct hits on hardened aircraft shelters more promising. The transition wasn't rapid, though. Munitions and aircraft meant for runway cratering kept soldiering on for many years after the approach became the inferior one.

Cordoning is a very interesting approach. I wrote a lot and already long ago about the fact that there aren't enough troops to form a proper front-line that makes infiltration very dangerous. Modern inter-state land warfare can be very mobile or take the shape of a hedgehog defence as seen in Eastern Ukraine. A defended front-line fulfilled many functions, and this ten options model offers a partial guidance to alternatives to a fairly static front-line. #4 to #9 all have something to offer in this regard, and I found great depth in this specific topic. The Cold War's cordoning approach to land-based air defences in Central Europe was given up during the 90's in favour of superficially more promising clustering (which was still pointless with the available hardware given technological developments, but NATO air forces preferred to ignore that their air defences had become useless and kept pretending**). Cordoning at sea appears to have two revivals; the "island chains" talk regarding the West Pacific Ocean and a couple years ago there was talk about a revival of the GIUK gap defence line scheme against Russian submarines (which are mostly ex-Soviet submarines). Cordoning requires great strength, for the defender needs to make with a part of the cordon while the attacker can focus his main effort on this section, hence the success of breakthrough battles in late WW1 and in WW2. Mobile reserves to back this cordon up can help (such as ASW aircraft rushing to the area where submarine activity was detected), but this is prone to deception (such as feint offensives against land war front-lines).

Mobile warfare is relatively disordered and exhausting. It was normal in air war (where fighter patrols clashed with fighter patrols as long as neither side was clearly inferior and had to become more focused) and can be considered normal in land war and war at sea whenever the warring parties have few forces relative to the relevant area. This is the status quo of today for many land warfare scenarios. Hindukush, Greece vs. Turkey and Malaysia vs. Singapore are some of the exceptions (albeit the Singaporeans have an attacking strategic defence doctrine). We have still much military personnel in Europe (European NATO approx. 1.5 million), but the share of non-combat support troops has grown so large that the few combat and reconnaissance troops could not possibly meet the demands of a stiff cordon defence. The most pressing problem with mobile defence is that it's very much exhausting to move around a lot. Fuel and munitions resupply is an issue, but the exhaustion of the troops is the bigger one. It's doubtful whether we would feed our troops go pills as ruthlessly as done by the Wehrmacht in WW2 (Pervitin), and even that only extends the endurance from days to a few more days till complete exhaustion in a high threat and high mobility scenario. NATO currently seems to believe that it could approach this problem by simply adding fresh troops into the meat grinder. We would either have overwhelming strength if we "counter-concentrated" before the war started or we would feed one brigade (or battalion battlegroup) after another piecemeal to the theatre of war over the course of many weeks. The Russians with their huge geographic depth appear to be forced to do the same. I'm not seeing anyone having a good answer to the exhaustion problem. Navies have another problem with the mobile warfare approach; it's much easier to find (relatively) stealthy targets such as submarines when you focus your sensor assets on straits or a cordon than by hoping to find them in the vast oceans.

This leads to #5, hunting patrols. This seems largely pointless for today's naval warfare except maybe with ASW aircraft or against auxiliary cruiser commerce raiders. Surface task forces would be sunk by superior air power easily nowadays, so there would be only strike, not some hunting. Air forces don't have so much potential in this option either. Land forces on the other hand may be grossly neglecting this approach. The defensive reconnaissance post linked in part I already pointed that out:  A combination of #5 and #8 (shadowing) may be extremely efficient and promising at dealing with forces that infiltrated through a non-existing defensible front-line. The difference to mobile warfare may seem a bit fuzzy, thus a clarification: Hunting patrols are for the 'rear' area where the opposing force has no home advantage, whereas mobile warfare transitions rapidly between favourable terrain, unfavourable terrain and terrain that favours neither side. Shadowing is always done by inferior forces that merely need to possess the mobility and sensory ability to stay in contact and the means to communicate. This lends itself very well to "economy of force", doing the job in an area with as few resources as possible so the saved resources are available for advantageous use elsewhere. Now a bit more specific: Imagine a land war in which the opposing forces have little fortitude with mechanised battlegroups, but keep infiltrating with platoon- to company sized elements. Those (small) units do not get stopped by a defended front-line, and our reconnaissance is so undermanned that it cannot even meet its offensive-supporting tasks, much less provide a theatre-wide surveillance. Now let's add a cheap governmental militia force that reports such intruders, maybe shadows (tracks) them and some hunting patrols engage them once the conditions are favourable. What else could be done? Recalling multiple brigades to deal with minor intrusions? That's about what was done after Iraqi Fedayeen busted a single support small unit in 2003.

#6 Convoying; it's not  much of a thing any more. Sure, the USN convoys for its aircraft carriers and there are protected road convoys in occupation warfare. By definition all army vehicle movements with more than three vehicles are a "convoy". But we don't really protect civilian vehicles with convoys. The USN even stopped pretending that it could or would protect its own nation's strategic airlift ships. The notion that Western navies protect our maritime trade lanes is not about convoying at all (and is quite some nonsense in general). The Allies needed many hundreds of escorts in WW2, and we'd need just as many today if we were to protect maritime trade by convoying. Convoying doesn't really work for civilian aviation, either (except some occasional fighter flight escorting a VIP aircraft). It is highly questionable whether convoying is a sensible approach to secure the supply transportation between land forces 'in the field' and some forward depot. Convoys may actually make it easier to disrupt such transportation, as few convoys are more easily tracked and stalled than a multitude of smaller movements. Maybe - and this is something that requires experimentation - the dispersed seemingly chaotic movement of supply vehicles moving alone or in very, very small groups makes more sense.  Anyway, we don't have the assets to protect even only some main supply route movements with convoying during a major war anyway. All the assets developed and established during occupation wars are exceedingly useless against the very different major war threats. A MRAP stops neither a Su-25 nor does it stop kamikaze drones and it's a mere target to an armoured recce AFV with an autocannon as well.

#7 secured zones. This is in part about using favourable terrain to protect much with few resources, but the more pressing part is to protect high value targets that must not be struck. Let's call it out; Warsaw (and in Korea: Seoul). A major NATO capital that would not be allowed to see Russian armoured vehicles in its centre. How do we protect it? A relatively static defence (forces allocated specifically to the vicinity of Warsaw) would fix multiple NATO/EU brigades, which could tilt the balance where the real action is against them. So far I have not seen much regarding this issue, what I saw about Baltic defence scenarios was not paying much attention to the possibility of deep opposing forces raids. These are still a thing. Shall we bet on #4, #5 or #7 in this regard? We might inadvertently end up using #10.
I mentioned the integrated (area) air defence clustering before. One of my pet peeves is the concept of a 'bastion' where land forces could safely recover, where supply dumps would be safe. This would be a 'secured zones' concept, and it would require much area air defence, but camouflage, deception, concealment and dispersion would still be used. The ground raids threat could be reduced by pickets and defended river crossings. Such an approach was unthinkable during the Cold War when you had to keep in mind that a 100 kt thermonuclear warhead would render all personnel and material in 10 km radius militarily useless. We can think about such a fairly small secured zone nowadays, as the realistic defence scenarios aren't about global thermonuclear war, but rather limited disputes with limited objectives.

#8 shadowing (or 'tracking', but I prefer 'shadowing' because I really mean tracking from nearby, not from afar). Much was already mentioned about this under #5, but it should be noted that civilians may be removable from the theatre of war at sea and in the air, but not on land. Agents may track and report troops movements in conventional war similar to how Taleban motorcyclists shadow Western forces in occupation warfare. Furthermore, think about the man-marking in football, where one player stays with an offensive player of the other team to diminish his offensive dangerousness. The old-fashioned man-marking was largely replaced by a zone defence, where not one man attempts to mark a specific player. Instead, defence players are responsible for a zone and man-mark whatever dangerous offensive player enters this zone. It's one of my operations pet peeves that reconnaissance/scouting as well as counter-recce should be about assets allocated to defined areas with a particular level of ambition. To shadow and report intruders is already part of the lower ambition levels (the highest ambition level would require immediate elimination of all hostile intruders). Shadowing of intruders including reporting their location, strength, state and movement could (should) be a major building block of a land warfare doctrine. I just don't think that the run of the mill talk about information superiority yaddayadda comes close to what I envision. A defending nation (or alliance) should have a near-complete situation picture not because of fancy sensors, but because the 'blue' terrain is covered with militia (if need be "stay-behind) forces capable of moderate combat (mostly against support troops) and of course giving situational awareness reports. This recce should be area-bound, no manoeuvre forces commander would send a recce party ahead of a battlegroup movement. He should simply know what's there by the militia reports, enjoying a distinct advantage over the invaders.

#9 NATO was a bit desperate back in the 1970's. Its intel told it about huge hordes of Soviet motorized rifle divisions deep in Eastern Europe. The simple-minded conclusion was that this was spelling the doom of unstoppably many waves of divisions attacking the West. It did apparently not cross their mind (nearly enough) that this was a non-aggressive stance, suitable for a defence-in-depth and likely a sign of Soviets preferring quantity on paper over quality.***

(The widely-spaced dot landscape continued to the Urals.)
Its answer was mostly technological: Air-Land Battle, in which air power was supposed to bust bridges and massacre marching convoys deep behind the battlefield. Air defences and defending fighters be damned. Very low flying was meant to counter ground-based radars, but pulse-doppler fighter radars with "look down" capability had appeared in MiGs years before the specialised Tornado bombers entered service. It was an awfully technicized and expensive hope against the superior numbers. It was likely also utterly unnecessary and of doubtful deterrence value. NATO could and should have paid more attention to address the shortcomings of its land warfare concept. 

All this "deep strike" that already proved terribly expensive and just as much indecisive in Korea is still lingering strong in NATO air war force designer minds. Decades of bombing brown people and handily defeating their obsolete air defences added to their optimism, but hardly anything was ever gained by the West through those bombings. The biggest success was handing Kuwait back to the hands of some other dictator. The Serbs embarrassed NATO in 1999 when they used obsolete air defences but stubbornly refused to lose most of them and persisted for months. 
We (the West) should think hard about whether we exaggerate the usefulness of air power in depth. It's obvious that a near-peer defence could make very good use of defenders' advantages.
The one thing that I don't doubt about air power is that it handily knocks out rail traffic. Rail bridges in particular are a nightmare.

The fashionable way to think about infrastructure attack is to think about malware, of course. And yes, this could be a major issue for days or weeks. This could happen exactly in the most important phase of a conflict, the first couple of weeks. Nothing of this sort can stop a brigade on a road march, though. You don't need any electronics for that. Most military vehicles are too old to know the meaning of the word "internet" anyway. The two things that could really mess up such a march are fleeing civilians jamming the roads (this could be provoked by propaganda) and busted bridges. Which is why I place such an emphasis on military bridging for Oder and Vistula.

#10 Enduring the problem. This appear to be a most underrated approach. It runs 180° counter to the armed bureaucracies' self-interests (unless the activity required to counter the problem is super-unpopular, like convoying for civilian shipping or naval mine countermeasures), which alone suffices to suspect a systemic neglect of this option.
I'm suspicious of the extreme expenses required for BMD. Ballistic (and soon hypersonic) missiles are so darn hard to intercept that the interceptor is usually more expensive than the hopefully intercepted munition. I'm very much in favour of limiting theatre of war BMD to few small footprints. Feel free to try protect a couple super high value targets against all incoming munitions, but we should just endure the other (quasi)ballistic missiles. American cruise missile strikes and the bomb damage repair experiences of WW2 offer plenty evidence that you can very well live with much more direct hits than the the size of threat arsenals has on offer.
Another thing we should endure is "offensive cyber warfare". Every tracing back of malware attacks to a perpetrator nation is a scam unless evidence was collected in that supposed country of origin itself through multiple sources. There's some Russian comment text in the malware? Oh really? North Koreans never heard of the Russian language? I remind you they share a common border. All that talk of offensive cyber by evil-this and evil-that only serves as cover for the offensive cyber that is publicly attributed the Westerners (and frankly, that's not beyond reasonable doubt, either). The pursuit of offensive cyber abilities in the West leads to an undermining of "cyber security", and thus an undermining of our "cyber defence". In other words; stop the "offensive cyber" BS and stop pretending that we can attribute "cyber attacks". We cannot and offensive cyber is worthless BS. Let's endure the problem and focus on having proper security in our own systems instead of backdoors and encryption weak spots galore.

As long as part II grew, I feel I still couldn't properly convey the core message about how changing circumstances may lead us to stick to an outdated mix (structure) of our defensive posturing, with an improper emphasis on some options and neglect of others. I didn't feel like throwing this away, though. Maybe someday I can make my point succinctly.

*: To be honest; my model does not cover "Raumverteidigung", and it doesn't because it's an outlier that doesn't seem to fit to all three domains (land and air at most). I'm disappointed that no comment pointed that out before I discovered it by myself.
**: Patriot can only cover a 110° sector well due to its crappy radar design that was meant for a stupid SAM belt. IHAWK batteries were meant to cluster as 360° protection for a Patriot battery. NATO knew since the German reunification that IHAWK was practically useless in face of Russian ECM, so Patriot was still a mere target on a silver plate, just now isolated due to clustering rather than as part of a line.
***: Pre-WWI statistics told about an unstoppably superior mass of Imperial Russian divisions. The  Western powers looked feeble by comparison. The real Russian Empire of WWI proved to be one of the weaker great powers even on land, two leagues behind the German land warfare machine. This wasn't merely about lack of industrial base for heavy artillery and munitions. Officer corps quality, NCO quality, infantry training, morale and techniques were all inferior. The Red Army of WW2 didn't change much of this.



  1. I take a historical example, the crossbow or the saber take a fraction of the time of a bow or a sword to train an effective combatant, but it costs more to build or has limited features.
    Is there a possibility of a similar development of systems that are quicker to master and maybe sometimes easier to build, which would allow to rapidly introduce more people to them and thru this rapidly expand the trained manpower?
    A development towards systems that need fewer maintenance personnel might have a similar effect in increasing numbers.
    You mentioned that there's currently a shortage of personnel with current systems which would lead to a very messy situation. States such as Russia, Finland or China that have militia organizations, might have an advantage, because they can better prevent this mess thru some measures of cordon defence.

    Your point on offensive cyberwar might merit a deeper look. It's a technology that currently offers advantages to small states to be able to strike larger entities. I do wonder why we are so neglient on security, but there might be current advantages in intelligence collection due to the low security that don't make it into our news. How much such preconflict collection provides benefits in a conflict, is an open question. While we do know weaknesses of systems, we don't have totally different IT ecosystems in competing countries. Exploiting the weaknesses might therefore favour the party with more ressources, which might be the USA, and for this reason the current policy makes sense for them under these circumstances.

    1. The common judgment by people with really high secret clearings is that the intelligence provided by the super-expensive American intelligence services is not much better than OSInt. I see the biggest potential of "offensive cyber" in the collection of kompromat on foreign politicians, but even the Russians seem to be rather unimpressive in this regard. Also, we should not collect kompromat on foreign democratic politicians lest we would destabilise their democracy. Kompromat about dictators on the other hand seems rather pointless. There's a nice anecdote about Sukarno in this regard.

      And regarding quickly forming men into soldiers; that's quite easy, can be done in six months including moderate sophistication and specialisation. The real issue is how to develop leaders for them that can do more than replay memorized basics. That takes approx. two years for small unit leaders, and much longer for battalion command. The only means of accelerating this that I see is to increase the intensity of training, such as months of warlike and increasingly less scripted exercises instead of a conventional training plan.

    2. I know the Sukarno anecdote, nice one. Other rumours about leaders might be more effective in getting cooperation from locals such as stories of embezzlement to help people rationalize their own greed when selling out.
      On second thought, is compromat of democratically elected leaders, their officials and influencers useful in order to steer their nations more in accordance with US wishes? Herding such an alliance might be more difficult without.
      I suspect for example at least some US interest groups behind the AfD and Querdenken, which during the Trump presidency might have been backed by US state resources. The attempt on the Reichstag looked like a rehearsal for what later happened in Washington. In case there's some truth to my suspicion, compromat would be of interest to aid in the protection of organisations that don't act in the interest of their native country.

      I get your point that there's a bottleneck in military leadership. But would we be able to detect if this bottleneck is being alleviated? I think surveillance drones and communication cables might provide a way to send forth scarce leadership resources to a cordon defense that support the less imaginative leaders in being more effective. It's about having better superiors more immediate than on the radio, These superiors could be a specialist group of tacticians sent out to engagements.