Infantry picket evacuation


This screenshot shows a random, yet fairly representative area in Eastern Ukraine. You can enlarge it by clicking.

The fields are large, typical of Eastern European industrialised agriculture (a legacy of Soviet-era land reform). The monoculture fields are separated by treelines / hedgerows. The red line measures a distance between two such treelines; about 1.5 km. It would typically be anything from about 500 m to about 2 km (diagonally more).

An obvious conclusion is that ATGMs absolutely don't need more than 2.5 km range unless you have a great vantage point (a roof) or a mast-mounted ATGM launcher and sensor. The line of sight is rarely if ever longer than that.
The defensive posture

Infantry can either dig in in those fields (the treelines would not hide large trench networks and their roots are an obstacle to digging) for fairly well-protected real and decoy positions or you could use a more stealthy approach and hide in the treelines with likely less (not necessarily no) cover.
Such positions should be manned enough for full surveillance of the area of responsibility day and night, for maintaining radio and/or cable comms, for accurately and competently calling for indirect fires, for accurate single shots at dispersed infantrymen, for high volume of fire against large groups of infantrymen and for deterring armour action with effective anti-armour weapons. The idea is that they should be able to fend off weak probing attacks and scouts and protect themselves against infiltration attacks. The defenders should not be strong enough to defend against powerful attacks, for this would require and thus expose too many men to artillery fires (too high attrition). The forwardmost line should be a picket line.
In short, such a 1.5 km treeline should be occupied by at one or two not unusually large infantry platoons. This assumes a defence-in-depth front-line, of course. A single fire team, LRS team, sniper team or AFV crew (with vehicle) might satisfy in mobile warfare.

The problem

So what would such platoons do when they come under pre-planned artillery and mortar fires? The textbook answer* for holding ground is to fall back to a secondary position during the fires, and to return to the original position before the enemy reaches it with tanks and/or infantry. The textbook answer for delaying actions is to fall back as well, and prepare to fight in the secondary position, rinse repeat. Variations are possible and likely, but it's fairly obvious that leaving a long-detected position in face of destructive fires is a smart, self-preserving move.

Yet how to do this? Infantry needs 10+ minutes for a 1.5 km cross-field run with equipment, more if the field has much vegetation. To run in the open exposes the infantry to spotting by aerial platforms that can see past the treelines.

The distance is too great to hide the moving infantry with smoke (and it takes too much munition to maintain smoke that blocks thermal cameras for long). The smoke might furthermore benefit an ongoing infantry & armour attack by the enemy and make it harder to get the timing for returning to the original treeline right.

Substantial entrenchments (cover, not necessarily fighting positions) every 200...300 m would help, but that would require much work for a long time, or expose much personnel to hostile artillery fires during construction.

Survivability could be enhanced by offering battlefield taxi service, such as by tracked armoured personnel carriers. The downside is that sending such vehicles into such a risky situation is materially unsustainable. Vehicle losses would occur frequently.
The APC would also need to hide fairly far forward (maybe 3 km back only, in range of even 120 mm mortars), which would expose it to detection, identification and finally to destruction by artillery, mortars or drones. So battlefield taxis sound like a solution for a brief conflict and for a long conflict with mass production of cheap and simple APCs only.
A solution?

It appears that those forward troops need some kind of motorisation, preferably some motor vehicles that can be hidden very well, might be parked in shallow dugout for fragmentation-protection and should keep moving when perforated a bit.
The conclusion is thus that maybe this 'line' infantry on picket or platoon strongpoint duty requires either very compact motorcycles or ATVs or something akin to the original Jeep (a small 4x4 vehicle).
None of this would cope well with any form of trench or wire fence, so enough routes would need to be prepared, with marked gaps in such non-military obstacles.

There are several models of compact 2x2 motorcycles with relatively little power, small diameter fat tires and modest top speed out there. The Rokon is the archetype. Their low weight and low weight would make them a good fit, but this is not a solution for having passengers in a stressful ride under fire. So this might at most suit very small teams, as you need one per man. These motorcycles should also not be considered a practical solution for self-deployment over long distances. Such motorcycles require no extra driving license (in Germany), the car driving license and a few training hours are enough (legally).
Next, let's consider ATVs. The image shows an untypical ATV, as it is tracked similar to snowmobiles and it's lightly armoured (though not much to the benefit of the users). Two men per vehicle seems optimistic, albeit possible. Again, routine self-deployability is limited to short distances (I'm thinking of less than 100 km, with this tracked one maybe less than 50 km). The vehicle is a lot harder to hide, certainly much harder to protect by giving it its own hull down dugout with ramp.
I understand that ATVs are popular with infantry, but I don't feel that this is the way to go for the tactical problem of this topic.

Finally, let's ignore modern ergonomics milspec standards and remember that numerous cars have shown that 3.5 to 3.75 m length suffice for four seats. That does not offer much comfort for tall men on the rear seats, but it's doable. A compact 4x4 vehicle of 3.75x1.6 m size could transport four men and the overall height could be as low as 1 m (with variable height suspension, when parked) while having enough ground clearance for offroad-driving.
A certain ATV/buggy and the M151 come close to this notional vehicle.
This is vastly more promising than the aforementioned 'fun vehicles' because the ratio between driver and total men onboard is radically better. This enables to hide the vehicles not in the front row, but in the 2nd or 3rd treeline/hedgerow. A driver could then provide a battletaxi service for three men from the front row. The self-deployability seems better, albeit preferably with no more than two men onboard.
A question remains: Who is crazy enough to drive an open vehicle towards artillery fires?

Maybe high tech helps solve the dilemma?

A solution might be to delete the battletaxi driver. This boosts the passenger capacity by one per vehicle anyway. A self-driving (or optionally remotely piloted vehicle with self-driving as backup capability) could be hidden in relative safety in 2nd or 3rd row, be called forward without risking a driver's life and then be used for moving 500 m...2 km where the men break contact and send the vehicles back where some other troops take care of them (hiding them again, updating their inertial navigation system and such). This does de facto preclude all two-wheeled vehicles, but ATVs, buggies and compact jeeps might work.
Such RPV/self-driving vehicles could also be used for casualty evacuation, for bringing supplies forward, for laying simple smoke walls (diesel fuel-evaporating smoke generator) and of course for routine exchange of crews between rear and forward positions. They might also be used to provide electric power as generators, to provide power for machinery to aid in preparing positions and more.
They would horribly extend any road march convoy with their low capacity per vehicle, though. An answer to that might be to transport them on logistic vehicles, which comes at a price, but also largely renders the self-deployability point moot.
Such unprotected or marginally protected vehicles would present less valuable targets than a real APC, would  be easier to hide (though also more numerous) and most importantly, they would be easier to replace. The latter is particularly true if one simply adapts existing civilian 4x4 cars by removing the roof and other parts.

Then again,
the Ukrainians appear to suffer less than 200 KIA per day while under intense Russian fires. That's actually a very low rate of attrition relative to the size of the country. Ukraine has millions of men fit for military service, maybe two million in a decent age for infantry. 70,000 KIA per year won't bleed it white. So how do they do it? Are Russian fires actually survivable in the trenches (that was not the sentiment in 1944)? Are the Russians using creeping barrages that can be evaded? Are the Russians incapable of hitting infantry slowly evading on foot? 
One thing is for sure; they suffer (relatively) tolerable attrition rates without any self-driving battletaxis.
I do suppose their forwardmost infantry might like having some, though.

*: A good historical study on this is here.


Actual artillery battle


There is often a huge difference between peacetime theory (+ practicing) and wartime reality. 

Armies are known to diverge from staying true to how war really is within three years after a war (= a not very widely used rule of thumb), and the gap between theory and reality is the greatest when much time has passed since theory was tested in battle, and new features were introduced.

Artillery as we knew it from the past about 30 years in the West appears to only remotely resemble what's going on in Ukraine. Our Western model of artillery in action was presumably proved to some degree during beating up Iraqi forces, but Eastern Europe doesn't appear to be bound by this evidence.


So what do I consider the Western model of artillery employment of the past 30 years? And what appears to go on in Ukraine (in red cursive)?

multiple rounds simultaneous impact for surprise effect lethality 

What is MRSI?

much use of DPICM (until the cluster munitions ban)

RU and UKR didn't ratify the ban, but DPICM employment is almost never seen on footage

DPICM is the primary anti-tank artillery munition

HE shells mess up AFVs by the hundreds, no footage of DPICM killing an AFV.

shoot & scoot to survive counterfires

even towed artillery pieces are in use at the front for months, no footage of shoot & scoot by SPGs

artillery shell purchases in the ten thousands

RU expends about 20,000 shells (and rockets) per day, supposedly has millions in storage

quality multifunctional fuses including RF proximity fusing for above-ground fusing for maximum lethality

RF PROX fusing never seen on footage, lots of craters from point-detonating shells, UKR troops largely survive in trenches without overhead cover

GPS and other navigation aids permit dispersed battery operations, guns can be alone in firing position

footage shows towed howitzers and non-improvised multiple rocket launchers always in battery formation

suppressive fires with HE shells support infantry and armour attacks

UKR: We have no munitions to spare for that.

Range is super important, let's enlarge the chamber volume and lengthen the barrel!

122 mm and 152 mm SPGs get busted alike, towed 152 / 155 mm guns survive for months, UKR uses unguided artillery with such precision that either the footage has an extreme selection bias or the fires weren't from far away. Only guided munitions appear to make good use of extreme range (Tochka-U, GUMLRS, possibly Excalibur)

smoke munitions provide concealment for troops movements on the battlefield

footage: Smoke? You mean burning wheat fields and grass?

mil spec hardware (including battlefield radios) and software older than some of its users used for fire support command control communications networks to digitally relay requests for fire to firing units

UKR: We got some apps running on civilian portable electronics and some American billionnaire gave us some cool satellite communications equipment that was meant for yachts and off-grid homes

RU: What are fire support command control communications networks

Russia considers artillery to be the king of the battlefield

RU: Look, we're almost as good at using artillery as in 1944! Pre-planned area fires and almost no responsiveness to infantry's calls for help.

Troops need to be trained for long and kept in active service for years to be effective.

UKR: We just mobilised a couple hundred thousand men and sent them to the front. That guy who  we sent to receive training on PzH 2000 in Germany is now hitting targets with it while sitting in it with beach sandals on his feet.

Artillery fights for supremacy by duelling artillery with radar-supported counterfires

Yeah, Russia loses about two arty pieces per day, but that's among many hundreds total and some kills were by air attack.

munitions are palletised and handled much with machinery (cranes and other load handling equipment mounted on logistic vehicles)

RU: Crane, yes, I recognise that reference. How does it relate to artillery? And what is load handling equipment?

In other words; save for HIMARS/GUMLRS we in European NATO could have our 1970's artillery arsenal in service and combine it with an app and consumer electronics and would be better-off than we're now. We kinda got the use of drones as flying artillery observation aircraft in WWI/WWII style right, but were not decisive enough to buy enough drones.

Most Western efforts on artillery of the last 30 to 40 years look like nonsensical circle jerking in retrospect. We neglected what's important (munitions quantity), overestimated the threat's quality and didn't go all in on what we actually got right.

You will not read that in publications of armed services in NATO, veterans' or reservists' associations, industry journals or the various milporn journals.



P.S.: Maybe someone knows footage that does not adhere to what I wrote here. I can only write on basis of what I've seen as I'm a one man show.



80/20 for defence


For years my go-to approach for deterrence & defence was tailored to the "NATO defends Baltic members against Russia" scenario with few exceptions, and I understand this may seem a bit overspecialised. The current art of war has many features different for different conflicts.

Key assumptions of that scenario were that

  • Russian armed forces are not total crap, they have hidden aces up the sleeve
  • Geographically close active army forces would need to respond very quickly to stem the tide in the first about two weeks
  • Active armed forces from all over NATO would trickle in and leave Russian armed forces hopelessly inferior in-theatre
  • No real mobilisation with newly-formed army formations would be necessary, as NATO is conventionally vastly superior to Russia.

I wrote a couple times that the 100% high end approach of modern armed forces is nonsense, armies were historically a mix of few high quality troops (say, knights) and vast majority of lower quality troops (sergeants, levies, squires). 1940 Germany had about 15% high quality divisions in its army and 85% infantry divisions that were not much different from WWI infantry divisions, and some of these were utter crap and good for no more than occupying or guarding coasts.

Ukraine's defence hows something similar; the active army and the active national guard formations existing since 2014 or 2015 (or some forerunner warband existing then) are the core of the land forces, but the bulk does not seem to be the mobilised territorial forces; overwhelmingly infantry and lightly equipped support forces.

I advocated for a volunteer militia that provides an expanded basic training to build a large pool of reservists in peace time despite a volunteer military. The biggest obstacle to this is an unhealthy fixation on peacetime strength of land forces when mobilised strength is what really matters.

The Pareto-ish 20% high 80% low mix proved successful because it's efficient in a world of scarce resources and sufficient motivation. 

The Ukraine War has shown that against today's Russian land forces it is very much possible to establish front lines and to survive sufficiently well in face of their artillery with an elastic defence in-depth. This piece of evidence changes much. It shows a path towards a much more cost-efficient and in fact much lower-cost NATO land defence. Yes, lower cost. To call for more military spending in the mightiest military alliance ever because the only serious threat is embarrassing and disarming itself in a war with a single secondary power is mindboggingly primitive, stupid, idiotic, illogical.

So basically we could reduce our active armies (Germany could easily make do with four well-rounded mechanised brigades, for example) and still provide the 20% "high expense" portion (the current paper tiger forces don't deserve to be considered high end). The 80% "low expense" portion could be 

(1) Militia infantry battalions (volunteers, maybe in frontier states conscripts) with 6 months of training for enlisted, 12 months for junior NCOs, 18 months for junior officers and senior NCOs and senior officers trained in active forces. This militia would at the same time provide the basic training and recruitment channel for the active army.

(2) Militia support regiments for certain support services with greater than 10 km radius of effect. These support regiments might include older (35+) militiamen, but more importantly it would require more specialised and centralised training. I still don't see why enlisted personnel would need more than 12 months of basic service for these, though.

These training time frames may seem alien to anyone who is used to how 'business' is done in our armed forces. They're not alien to students of military history. The Americans raised "90 day wonders" in WW2, 2nd lieutenants trained a mere 90 days. Germany understood in WW2 that proper infantry training requires six months, but it did send many recruits with only six weeks of infantry training to the front, later reduced to something like six days, but those were clearly useless. Medieval levies and renaissance mercenaries had mere months of training. Even 18th century regular army cavalrymen were supposed to be proficient after one season (six months; no riding in wintertime and until the underfed horses regained strength in spring) of training.

Do you know who is absolutely disgusted by this concept? Active army senior NCOs and officers whose paycheck and prestige depends on pretending that troops only become useful after two years of training and peacetime military strength is what they're interest in, not deterrence & defence.

Anyway, I may flesh out this idea in later blog posts, with some mentioning of hardware to make visible that the costs could indeed be kept very affordable.





The mirror Putin law


Putin's pretence that the war of aggression / war of intended conquest against Ukraine is no war was ridiculed much, but it's a very serious thing. Some Russians go to jail for years because they publicly called it a war.

We should not forget that the attempt to suppress domestic dissent against warfare by denying war is war is not specific to this instance. The Korean War was called (counter to customs and the intent of the U.S. constitution) not a declared war and called a "police action" by the U.S..

Many politicians in the West have ever since played games with soldiers' and civilians' lives at no expense to themselves, and without proper political backlash by pretending that war isn't war.

I propose we get a "mirror Putin" law that criminalises for politicians to not call a war a war, and give anyone the right to go to court to prosecute (and deny the Generalbundesanwalt in Germany the right to take over the case, so it cannot kill off the prosecution). Sure, hundreds of politicians would still enjoy parliamentary immunity, but politically obedient state attorneys could not protect them and the cases would linger without statute of limitations counting down. Lying warmongers would fear to be delivered to justice, even if they stay in parliament (a changed majority after an election might lead to a nullification of their immunity). It would be a Sword of Damocles that might protect us from lies that make it easier for warmongers to launch and keep going stupid small wars.





Threat country ranking for Germany (top 5) (2022)


Germany is very safe these days. My normal check list

  1. Will we get blockaded?
  2. Will we get bombed?
  3. Will we get invaded?

is almost completely unrealistic. Germany is almost certainly not even part of the most feverish Russian Empire restoration dreams of anyone with power in Russia.

To still participate in alliances is similar to why countries such as Portugal or Luxembourg participate:

  • solidify a sense of European-North American commonality
  • contribute to Western cooperation
  • collective security as a means to maintain buffers and to keep friendly Eastern neighbours from being forced into an exploitation scheme similar to COMECON
  • laziness and path dependency

I suspect an additional intent to misuse/abuse alliances for military adventure gaming, but that's not the topic this time.

So the military threats to Germany directly are marginal. Still, there are scenarios how certain countries can inflict great harm on Germany, and I will attempt to rank them.

First, let's remember the concept of expectation value, which is probability of an event multiplied with its importance (probability of something bad happening times how bad it would be). I bring this up because I anticipate that people will disagree with my ranking on grounds of low probabilities, while I attempt to pay attention to expectation value of harm, so the severity of the harmful event is of equal importance as the probability.

So, this is the ranking, and no, without further explanation you will not understand me correctly on this:

  1. Russian Federation
  2. United States of America
  3. People's Republic of China
  4. India
  5. Israel 

Now to the explanations:

#1, Russian Federation (with its appendix Belarus)

This threat is fairly simple.

  • Russia can attack NATO/EU allies and thus force Germany into a direct war,
  • it can cause economic damage (it actually already does so with de facto cyber war and economic war, albeit of course we do also kind of wage economic warfare on them via the EU trade restrictions),
  • it might affect Germany indirectly with radioactive fallout (I suppose a direct attack is too unrealistic to warrant attention),
  • it's known to exploit far right wing and other idiots (including the far left) inside Germany to undermine our democracy and promote internal distrust, paralysis and unrest.
  • It's the official threat, geographically close, there's a history of (always unnecessary) conflict with Russia and even politicians in power talk occasionally about how one has to be careful to avoid a shooting war with them.

#2, United States of America

This does beg the question why the U.S. would possibly harm us intentionally. The simple answer is it already turned 80% Fascist recently, just barely withdrew from that and I think there's a 30% probability that it will complete the move towards a Fascist dictatorship / 'controlled democracy' within the next ten years (maybe five). Moreover, the United States have already shown (and not just by Fascist politicians) a willingness to wage economic war against Germany by its attempt to blackmail us into a specific policy change (giving up North Stream 2). Regardless of how sensible that move would have been; it was up to us and the extreme efforts and economic warfare waged were extremely disrespectful of German sovereignty, which the Americans were used to ignore becuase it did not really exist until 1990. The U.S. also has a history of bullying and economic warfare, so this is totally in their tool set.*

There are multiple ways how they could inflict harm on Germany. The two most extreme ones are

  • They can basically switch off the German economy and government by backdoors in Microsoft software alone. Nothing more is needed really. In case you wonder how I can be sure about the existence of backdoors: Every autoupdater function in software is a backdoor technically, period. They have many options for less extreme forms of economic warfare.
  • A fully Fascist U.S. might side with Russia as its wannabe dictator already did in the past. In the most extreme scenario continental Europe might face a barrage of thousands of cruise missiles and air attacks from carrier battle groups (this is rather a scenario for the 2030's, as it would require much propaganda preparation for such a move).
  • Additionally, their idiotic economic policies habitually create business cycles of boom-bust that do by the very large size of their economy and through trade and financial system connections cause economic disruptions and even recessions in Germany as well.** This is not a security policy threat, of course.

#3, People's Republic of China

An intense conflict with the PRC could be launched both as a side effect of a Pacific War between the PRC and U.S. and as an effort to enforce Chinese intents of influence sphere expansion and economic expansion.

  • They could cease export of rare earths and other key goods as a means of economic warfare,
  • they could affect Germany indirectly by radioactive fallout,
  • they could drag Germany into a Pacific War by bombing North American soil,
  • they could wage economic warfare through 'cyber warfare', using backdoors and known/intentional non-patchable vulnerabilities of Chinese-made internet-connected electronics. The issue of the security of Huawei internet infrastructure electronics was raised in the past years.

#4, India

I do not suppose that India is a direct threat, albeit things can change. India's current cuddling with Putin's Russia sure is not encouraging to us.

The Hindu-nationalist government is on a confrontation and escalation course with domestic Muslims and Pakistan. This may lead to a thermonuclear war on their subcontinent. The probability is very low, but existing and the damage even to Germany could be extreme. This hypothetical conflict is the primary scenario for theoretical studies of nuclear winter nowadays.

I consider mostly the possibility of radioactive fallout (much more radiation than in the other mentioned scenarios) and nuclear winter-induced famine risk to be a possible harm to Germany, but even a limited thermonuclear war on the Indian subcontinent would certainly have severe consequences for Germany.

An India that closely aligns with Russia could add to the threat that Russia poses (see #1).

#5, Israel

So basically there's an apartheid government that waged a war of aggression and conquest and is despite numerous efforts of the United Nations still keeping territories illegally occupied and is colonising them. This government is armed to the teeth including a sizeable air force and has nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that can easily reach Europe. Many of their people have a kind of aversion against Germany and ethnic Germans in particular and can easily be motivated to scapegoat us. It's astonishing that this is not widely considered to be a threat country, it seems an inescapable conclusion to me, albeit maybe one for chats behind closed doors.*



*: I think it's incorrect to scratch a country from a threat list only because relations are fine and peaceful NOW.

**: Post-WW2 Germany does not create severe recessions on its own, but it's importing them through trade. 



Reappraisal of U.S.Army brigades

Back in 2016 I wrote negatively about U.S.Army brigades, pointing out certain cornerstone equipment deficiencies. 
This requires a makeover in light of what we learned from the Russo-Ukrainian War so far.
Hardware: Tube Artillery
It turned out that maybe extreme range with dumb rounds is maybe not so important as the improved accuracy and dispersion of post-Cold War tube artillery. Some M777s were destroyed by counter-artillery fires in Ukraine, but so were many (tracked) self-propelled guns as well. I still dislike the M777 thoroughly, but towed 155 mm L/39 now looks more like an acceptable budget solution for tube artillery (although M777 is not cheap because of weight reduction efforts) than like something near-useless.

Hardware: Short range AT

I stick with what I wrote albeit the lessons in the next category greatly reduce the issue in this one.

Hardware: Long-range AT

So it turned out that the Soviets were able to counter Western ATGM generations within 10...1.5 years (see ERA, Shtora, Drozd countering the SACLOS ATGM generation), but the Russians cannot do the same in 25 years or more (Javelin is from mid-90's, its concept was public knowledge in the 80's). This was a huge surprise to me, I was sure they had an ace in the sleeve. Javelin still works because the Russians apparently suck at countering publicly known Western military technology.
The U.S.Army's anti-tank firepower is thus fine for now, even without main battle tanks present.

Structure: Heavy BCT
The text is still fine there.
Structure: Medium BCT
It turns out that the medium BCT is fairly well-suited to the kind of fighting in the Donbass, until its artillery is consumed. Infantry holds a line by manning and defending pickets/observation posts, artillery picks on targets with accurate fires. The Medium BCT may be a bit short on aerial observation platforms for artillery spotting. The bigger issue is the near-absence of air defences, which I mentioned briefly in the beginning of the 2016 blog post.

Structure: Light BCT

The text is still fine there.

So what should they do based on what we (I) know now?

155 mm L/52 on 8x8 or 6x6 would certainly be better than M777, a successor to Javelin should be introduced because the Russians are now extra motivated to protect their tanks against top attack,  and battlefield air defences need to be improved. The updated Avenger with AIM-9X* and NASAMS 3 with AMRAAM-ER would be fine, but additionally they (and we) need an answer to smaller drones. I suppose the answer is a mass-produced RCWS with suitable sensors (acoustic, thermal imager) to fight off small drones and refurbished old Stingers against cheap drones too high or far away for the RCWS' weapon (Americans would likely use 12.7x99mm in that RCWS).

And then find a concept for how to make mechanised mobile warfare work. Events in Ukraine have cast some doubt over whether the Cold War recipe for mechanised warfare can prevail against the defences it's going to face. The U.S.Army's armoured spearheads would not fare well against its own infantry's AT firepower, for example.

*: I understand that 100 kW lasers might do the trick as well, and be cheaper per kill. It's just suspicious that after all the interest in laser weapons there are still practically no destructive lasers being fielded.
P.S.: Keep in mind I only picked a few aspects then and thus now. The U.S. Army's issues are more diverse, including a disastrous personnel system, inexperienced junior officers, training issues down to basic soldiering skills and cumbersome/slow command.



This makes total sense for NATO bureaucrats, who of course like to see an expansion of their bureaucracy (allocating and overseeing resources - they do not do R&D themselves), especially with something interesting as a topic such as technological gadgetry.

It's also a total and complete confession by NATO that it's not a smart organisation or alliance and incapable of reacting to events in a timely fashion.

Ukraine is defending itself with mostly 1970's and 1980's equipment against an aggression with mostly 1970's and 1980's equipment. Very little of the relevant equipment there is considerably newer, and almost all of it was conceptually already known during the 1980's. Some of the newer relevant items are
  • NLAW (introduced 2000's), conceptually going back to early 90's overflight attack ATGMs
  • Javelin (introduced 1990's), developed since early 80's
  • small recce drones (conceptually 1980's, see KZO Brevel)
  • Bayraktar TB2 (introduced 2010's, conceptually 1970's)
  • StarLink (introduced recently, conceptually 2000's, civilian product)
  • some thermal night vision devices (tech introduced in 1980's, improved in resolution)
Ukraine could clearly defend itself with purely 1980's equipment (even purely Soviet equipment) if it had it in the right quantities.
Defence can nowadays be just fine if you master the art of introducing 20 years-old equipment in suitable quantities. The potential aggressors are using almost exclusively equipment older than 20 years and conceptually older than 30 years. A robust defence implies a robust deterrence.

We're seeing a large-scale live demonstration of how unnecessary "leap ahead" / "revolutionary" technology advances are for defence. It's visible to anyone paying attention and thinking for himself/herself that NATO has paid too much attention to fancy new tech and not enough attention to quantity of infantry and indirect fires munitions. 

So obviously, this is just the right moment for NATO to set up a bureaucratic program to promote military technology advances.



Air warfare: Payload and what it means

The aviation community's opinion of tactical combat aircraft during the 1980's was split between awaiting the publication of rumoured stealth aircraft and fascination with extreme agility airframes that drove the F-16's high agility concept to extremes. 

By the 1990's and early 2000's another view took hold, mostly in the shadow of stealth aircraft that captivated the attention of only superficially interested laymen: Avionics had become extremely expensive and extremely capable since the 1980's. Seeing in darkness, very versatile radars, electronic warfare tools in all tactical combat aircraft, spectacularly successful (in '99) towed decoys, active radar seeker missiles, missile approach warners and much more had transformed old 1970's light alloy aerodynamically stable airframes beyond all public expectations for performance from the 1980's. Avionics, not stealth, were the real star in air warfare. Furthermore, agility performance expectations were shifted from the manned airframe to the self-guiding missile. The F-35's of today are not extremely better than F-16s from the late 80's in terms of rolling, turning, yawing, climbing, acceleration (if better at all) - but they make use of air combat missiles of drastically improved agility, sensor performance, manoeuvering logic and range. The stealth aircraft in general are not known for carrying much "payload", most of the promises of the F-35 were and are about avionics and peripheral offboard electronics.

You may look into books on aircraft and find payload or bombload figures. Tactical bombers of the USAF typically carried up to 4,000 lbs of bombs, for example. Payloads of individual aircraft were much higher than that during the 60's to 80's, especially with such types as Tornado IDS, Su-24, F-4, A-6, A-7. The A-4 was considered to be a great air/ground aircraft becuase its small airframe was able to carry an astonishing bombload over a good range.

The importance of big bombloads dwindled during the post-1991 period, nowadays tactical aircraft often take off to combat air/ground missions with more mass in external fuel tanks than in air/ground munitions. Still, payload seemed to be an important performance characteristic.

This view appears to be largely obsolete to me.

The real strength of manned aircraft of today isn't their payload, it's their avionics, specifically the mission-directed avionics. A Bayraktar TB-2 isn't so great because of its few puny guided glide bombs (albeit those destroyed much when air defences permitted it). It's the gimballed Argos II HDT sensor that's so important. It's a flying artillery spotter even when ordinary battlefield air defences keep it at a distance.

Whatever targets an aircraft detects, identifies and reports can be hit by artillery out to impressive ranges (over 70+ km with guided munitions), so having an artillery spotter that can see and ID a car out to 20 km is oppressive to the enemy.

Likewise, today's air/air missiles are essentially the same thing as a second stage of an area air defence (surface to air) missile might look like. You can see this clearly with the French MICA missile and the related two-stage Aster missile that uses about the same active radar guidance as MICA RF.

So basically as long as you're close to friendly ground forces you could shoot at a hostile air target with a two-stage surface-to-air missile instead of an air-to-air missile. About the same thing arrives at the target and stands about the same chance to hit it.

This means a defensive or air superiority fighter would not need much payload in terms of air-to-air missiles. Instead, its bird's view is what really matters. It could most of the time be used as an AEW asset, a flying radar platform that attempts to stay out of fights, but informs firing forces about contact vectors and identifications.

The payload of a tactical aircraft of today that really, really matters is its sensor payload. This is true both in air/air and air/ground.
To influence the ground war largely requires to have a bird's view on the ground, which requires a flying platform fairly close to hostile ground forces. This can be expected to cause high attrition, so a drone may be the best choice. A radar's bird's view onto the ground is less relevant in my opinion because it can be jammed much easier (lasers can also be used on drones using E/O and thermal sensors, but a powerful radar in SAR or GMTI mode is simply giving away its position much more).

To gain air superiority does not require to be far forward, as the primary sensor for this is still the radar. Air targets at normal altitudes can be detected and identified by land-based sensors quite well, but air targets at very low altitudes still require airborne radars for early warning. So the niche for the fast 8+ ton (maybe optionally manned) tactical aircraft of the future may be the use of a powerful look down radar, possibly in rather long wavelengths (L-band?) to devalue stealth. Such an aircraft might have a powerful radar with side-looking capability. This way it could fly parallel to an air war 'front line' while looking.

So the payload are the sensors, the shooters of munitions can be on the surface (which would greatly save costs despite more rocket propellant being required).
This applies to state of the art high end large scale warfare in my opinion. The optimum looks different for a Latin American country, for an African country, for a Southeast Asian country and for a carrier navy.

And below all this the air and ground war may soon be dominated by smaller than human drones on the battlefield, evading detection most of the time and able to act autonomously to avoid bandwidth and radio link reliability issues.




Rest times for armour


One expectation / opinion of mine that was kind of confirmed by the Russo-Ukrainian War is that mechanised forces need secure resting (hiding) bivouacs.

They have extraordinary supply demands to catch up with (supply is unlikely to work all the time), extraordinary maintenance and also repair needs and extraordinary human rest needs (tracked vehicles are noisy, vibrate much and most have no air conditioning, furthermore armoured action can be very intense). The combat power of armoured troops would be spent quickly and likely to little use if they were used with high intensity for more than four days in a row.

My reasoning was basically that the German army of WW2 was about 85...90% infantry/artillery formations and only about 10% formations with many armoured vehicles, and the latter were able to rest, recuperate, repair behind a front-line formed by infantry and artillery.

Concealment (usually by woodland) and some battlefield air defences (mostly 20 and 37 mm guns) were enough to make these resting bivouacs very safe places for them.

An alternative approach was used by the resources-rich Americans; they gave more tanks to an infantry division than a German tank division had and had thousands of friendly tactical aircraft in support, and in consequence those armour units were also quite safe.

So my concern for the past ~12 years was that there would not be safe-enough bivouacs for armoured units due to the marginal quantities of infantry available. This is not just about combat power of infantry; the lack of delaying forces would mean that an armoured raid could advance 20+ km in an hour, so a bivouac could even be overrun, or come into even mortar range unexpectedly. A French armoured division was indeed overrun in its nighttime bivouac in 1940.

I looked at some things, and settled on a combination of militia infantry battalions (kind of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence forces, but better trained before the war) and small mechanised battlegroups as skirmishers well in front of most (then resting) armoured forces as the way to go.

So what is being done in Ukraine: The Russians saw their infantry shortage and did not keep armoured formations in good hiding positions in the relatively safe rear areas. They kept them rather close forward to reinforce the front. The BMP IFVs were not separated from their dismounts (infantry), so they must have been particularly exposed. Their main battle tanks were apparently operating in platoon strength much of the time, so they were dispersed very much as well.

We also saw MBTs used (and destroyed by ATGMs) in overwatch positions in Yemen and Syria, with Arab kleptocrat state armies and Turkish army making use of their good sensors instead of properly equipping the much easier-hidden infantry for observation.

Western land forces would probably have acted the same way as the Russians due to their weak infantry component.

The result of such behaviour is that armoured vehicles are much-exposed, easily found, identified and targeted with artillery. This is particularly troublesome against an opposing force with bird's view. This behaviour also leads to a dispersal of armoured vehicles, which makes it harder to mass forces for aggressive localised actions. This in turn leads to an inability to advance much, even though the infantry weakness should 'only' make it hard to hold ground.

It is a bit weird to see so little infantry in Western armies, as infantry is not really more expensive than many other branches. Many young men want to be infantrymen, especially some kind of special infantryman ("ranger", "commando", "marine", "para" are 'sexy'), due to male hardcoding and cultural reasons. 

So given the apparent difficulty to recruit (and re-enlist) enough full-time infantry, the way to might indeed be to set up militias (basically independent infantry battalions) that do give a decent training (six months basic, more for NCOs) and possess decent equipment. The frontier countries would naturally be expected to have impressive militias, while the more rearward countries of NATO and EU would not need to have full recruiting for the militias; their surplus of militia equipment could be valuable aid to countries under threat or attack.

And then - only then - after solving the infantry shortage we might be able to make armour work anything like it's supposed to work in our doctrines.

By the way; the issues I've mentioned here do of course not show up in a few days of exercise in mere battalion strength on an unrealistic "open fields + woodland" exercise area. They were easily anticipated and easily deduced from military history, though.





"War is a racket"

"War is a racket" by Major General Smedley D. Butler is an anti-war classic by a highly decorated U.S. Marine Cops officer. There's still a USMC base in Japan named for this officer.

One quote of this remarkable officer sums his experience up, but isn't from his "War is a racket" text itself:

MG Smedley D. Butler, USMC, 1920's
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints.
The horrors of war, the unjustified profits of the war industry, the suffering at home, mutilated soldiers and especially his experience in many needless and corrupt small wars convinced MG Butler that war is a racket and evil. I read his book several times, and it's obviously applicable to our time as well as to the early and late 20th century.

He judged by his personal experience of his lifetime - the "Great War" and many small interventions against sovereign nations in Latin America.

He wrote "War is a racket" in 1935, in hindsight probably one of the worst times ever if you want to have lasting impact and fame for an anti-war work. The axis powers didn't allow peace for long any more (he warned only about Italy in his book) and showed that there are two kinds of war; those you can avoid and those you cannot avoid without submission.

This distinction is very important if we try to apply lessons learned from history for a better future.
Patriotism is a good thing if used to mobilize for unavoidable wars, and it's evil if it gets exploited to reinforce support for needless wars.
Furthermore, the arguments of pacifists should not be dismissed completely, but considered for each and every war in detail - they apply to some wars and not so much to others.

Not only the understanding of patriotism should be influenced by past experiences - the whole approach to war needs to be checked. Are our societies really prepared to repel attempts to lure us into needless small or major wars in the future? Or will we fall prey to such attempts as the British did in 2003, when their head of government was able to participate in a war that the majority of the British didn't even want and that turned into a disaster?

P.S.: I know I repeat myself. It's worth repeating for a 3rd time after the original 2007 blog post.


HQ issues


Feel free to click on this satellite image and look at the bigger version. Do you recognise something odd, something out of place?
I can spot military training grounds in Germany easily on such satellite imagery because it's always the most atypical terrain, with the fewest features. In this case the left green woodland + couple roads + yellow meadows is such a training ground, about 1.5 by 1.5 km large. The fields have identical colours unlike agricultural fields with their crop rotation.  There's always woodland and practically never anything resembling a village or at least some remote farm houses.
Generations of German army troops (and allied troops stationed in Germany) have been conditioned to think of this kind of terrain being the terrain in which the army has to function. Talk about operations in urban terrain are just that - talk.
One of the consequences is that the idea of a headquarter (brigade, division, corps level) in modern NATO is a very weird idea. Military history shows that hotels and large upper class mansions were the most typical headquarter locations in actual war. The German army had to be a bit less predictable on the Eastern Front for a shortage of such buildings and because some of the only such buildings were mined with huge basement explosives and days-long mechanical fuses by the Soviets. Still, according to military history a headquarter in shape of a couple tents has been most uncommon between the early Imperial Roman army and 1980's NATO. Container-tent hybrid HQ (and field hospital) complexes are a fairly new invention.

Now if the Russo-Ukrainian War has shown anything, it is that (as with the German army of 1944/45) hiding is of utmost importance. A dectected munitions dump at 30 km 'depth' is a gone munitions dump. An identified HQ is a shelled HQ (and a couple news reports about yet another general dead). A container-tent complex is guaranteed to be such a mess. I just picked this brochure up:

My scanner produced a moiré pattern as if it was 25 years old. It's more like 10 years old.

I don't blame the company for devising such a thing. They develop to eed demand. The demand is stupid, the idea of and thus requirements for HQ/CP equipment are bollocks IMO.

The ideal HQ/CP equipment brigade and/to corps is in my opinion a bunch of cases and folding furniture that can be moved by stairs-capable sack barrows into a building. The process would be as follows
  • a MP patrol (MP acting as HQ security anyway) finds a suitable shop or school building or storehouse 500 square meters or bigger
  • radio emitters are set up 1...2 km away and connected by fibre optic to the site
  • diesel power generators are set up inside buildings with flexible tubes for air intake and exhaust
  • HQ (small) unit arrives, unloads stuff, pushes away previously existing stuff that would be in the way
  • LED lights installed and connected to power
  • furniture unfolded
  • electronics connected to power cables
  • most data communication by bluetooth, reduced by some cables
  • local radio receivers installed (passive, thus no need for spacing)
  • the driver crews relocate all motor vehicles by least 2 km and hide
  • HQ is ready for the job
No containers, no tents. You could not possibly have such an idea of a headquarter if you stick to an exercise experience of "woodland and meadows, no buildings", of course.
For a completely different take see this:


About unconfirmed expectations

The Russo-Ukrainian War did not confirm some expectations regarding modern land warfare, well beyond Russians being a bit worse than believed possible. That's nothing extraordinary, wars differ very much from each other. The Spanish Civil War and the French campaign of 1940 were separated by only about 13 months, but were still extremely different, for example.

Some of my expectations for land warfare that so far were not really confirmed:
front lines:
I expected that no front lines could be established for lac of infantry. The Russians clearly didn't establish proper front lines, but the Ukrainians did so at least partially. They did it by mobilising much infantry. Still, even they appear to have proper front lines in some areas only.

at least temporary massing of forces:
The Russians do no more mass duel (line of sight combat) forces for breakthrough actions, after their failures in the north. I still suppose a proper fire plan and massing of say 50 MBTs and 50 IFVs should yield more of a breakthrough than all the shooting of the past four weeks, especially since the Ukrainian artillery is dispersed and unlikely to defeat such a force concentration.
electronic warfare:
Russian electronic warfare appears to be disappointing, after all. Maybe this is not so much Russians being Russians, as a plain physics issue. It may also be that their EW is too focused on the traditional radio frequency hardware, and not enough oriented against consumer digital radio tech that uses different radio bands.

tracked vehicles:
Videographic evidence keeps showing tracked vehicles moving on roads and dirt roads, not offroad. Dreams of fully tracked battlefield logistics were always 'questionable', but much effort was put into having at least fully tracked combined arms forces - and it appears that the gain in offroad capability rarely gets exploited even by the T-64/-72/-80 series and even MT-LBs, which should have at least equal or superior (MT-LB!) soft soil mobility compared to Western designs. So maybe we don't need nearly as many tracked vehicles after all and the 8x8 craze post-1999 was not all that crazy after all (save for the unit costs)?
infantry night combat:
Night vision-equipped infantry should in theory be capable of launching devastating nighttime raids on hostile infantry that has little or no night vision. Maybe this is simply not so suitable for private filming, but so far I have not seen anything supporting the notion that this is going on.

extremely weird performance of battlefield air defences (and fighters) against drones:
On one hand drones get shot down by ManPADS even though they should be quite invisible to ManPADS users (in worst case by Yehudi lights). On the other hand MALE drones defeat radar-equipped air defences that should be able to down them. I understand some reasons behind the latter, but I don't understand why the Russians cannot fix their problems that make MALE survivable sometimes, somewhere.

The central question is by now the supply of artillery munitions. The rate of munition consumption appears to differ wildly by locations and days. The Ukrainians in particular appear to use artillery much if not mostly for responsive pinpoint fires, which is good for munitions economy.

An old rule of thumb is that an army formation can be expected to yield after 20...30% casualties. Some Russian BTGs appear to soldier on with terrible morale after more casualties than that. Then again, they're probably not being subjected to an assault that would give the last push towards flight.

These paramilitary troops were used by Russia as if they were regular army infantry battalions. I did previously only consider them to be troops for mopping up and establishing control over the civilian population behind the regular army.

The lightly mechanised Russian airborne arm appears to be a total failure. Their troops were more fit, more motivated, better trained, better equipped with night vision than other regular army combat troops, and it appears to have made no difference whatsoever. They even got bogged down at Hostomel airport instead of an aggressive defence with their bulletproofed vehicles and night vision. So basically Russians being Russians.

Practically no large-scale raiding appears to go on. Why? There are front-lines in some areas, but other areas appear to be little more than observed.

Russian artillery having more dispersion than expected:
The Russian artillery appears to have more dispersion than expected. Do you remember accounts from the 1942 Battle of Midway? 16 dive bombers killed three carriers in one attack. Compare that to the inaccuracy of the dive bombing against the bigger and slower Yamato and you get a picture of American dive bomber pilots having adopted much less risky attack patterns in 1943/44. Less risk led to les accuracy. The Russian artillery appears to suffer from the same. They do not appear to aim at the wrong point (their accuracy at least with corrected fires appears to be OK). They do appear to have a very high dispersion, which can mostly be explained with them firing at long ranges (and maybe worn-out barrels, but that's less likely). The Russian artillery dispersion patterns look about as bad as in WW2. Meanwhile, the accuracy-seeking Ukrainians appear to shoot at shorter distances to have impacts more close to the aimpoint.

Artillery munitions quality:
Both Russia and Ukraine refused to sign the cluster munitions ban, and I was firmly among those who believed that this gives Russia a huge advantage over Western artillery in terms of raw firepower. After all, cluster munitions are more deadly than normal high explosive.
Well, almost all the photographic and video evidence I saw so far indicates that not only are cluster munitions extremely rare in this war; the regular high explosive munitions are widely if not exclusively used with point detonating fuses.Radio frequency proximity fuses was introduced on the artillery battlefield in late 1944 and is understood to create much more fragmentation effect, especially at certain angles of descent. Well, Russians and Ukrainians don't appear to use such fuses. It's almost all HE with PD fuses, barely more effect per shell than on the 1941-1945 Eastern Front!

Again; keep in mind that the face of war can change quickly, even be different between two parallel conflicts. Yet the face of war in the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia war and in this war appear to be very similar. Almost none of the theoretical, doctrine and sales pitch talk of the post-Cold War period is recognizably present. The exception appears to be the use of drones, which is largely reminiscent of First World War use of airpower.
The face of war in Eastern Europe appears to be almost completely detached from Western preparations for defence, and at the same time major Western armed forces had their pants dropped and their hollowness exposed. The Russians have at least crude artillery munitions in quantity, while the German senior officers merely pretended to lead an actual army that could go to war!