Ideological dead ends


There are certain ideological dead ends that are plaguing the Western World, albeit with very varying degrees among its countries.

For example, some people seriously believe that a bunch of cells equals a human being and an abortion is thus homicide (or "murder").


So once you've convinced yourself of this, you see a gazillion of "murders" happening in your country every year. Certainly, there's nothing more important than ending that, and voilà, you've become a single-issue voter. A useful idiot who is going to support the party that more or less seriously represents your position on this single issue, but its heart is really with giving rich people tax breaks and allowing corporations to poison the environment and everyone (and rip everyone off).

Still, at this point nothing trumps this single issue to you and you're locked into that ideological dead end.

And then there are people who have convinced themselves that the opposing party is riddled by paedophiles, sells children's organs, well, maybe they're satanists. Oh yes, and their most prominent politicians are super villains. So villainous indeed that no amount of investigations over many years can uncover a single criminal act of theirs.

At this point it doesn't matter how many paedophilia scandals your own party has, or that investigations of the politicians whom you hate are fruitless. You refuse to be ruled over by paedophiles and their league of child-eating super-villains! It doesn't matter to you what the other (your preferred) party does regarding the quality of life and security of yourself, your family, your children, your neighbours. it just doesn't matter. You refuse to be ruled over by paedophiles! Paedophiles cannot possibly legitimately win an election, ever! It doesn't matter whether they were declared winners of an election even by office-holders of your own party. Any story about how they allegedly cheated in the election has to be true, obviously. Moreover, accusations of such election fraud are not just accusations, they're evidence! They have to be true, no more evidence needed. Doesn't matter how many courts dismiss lawsuits about the election, those judges are probably lizards or paedos.

And of course, fact checkers are propagandists when they say something you don't like (but you send your peer group their fact checks if you like the result!). 

Some people are even serious about the "lizard people control the world" thing, or similar ideas.

All reasonable arguments against your position become weightless once you've convinced yourself of such things. There's no reason to listen to paedos, lizards, baby-murderers. You're smart, you're standing against the puppetmasters! Including against those puppetmasters who beg you to not vote against your own family's economic interests for once!

You've got your news source, and those news sources informed you that all other news sources are run by lizards, or something. Don't trust them!

- - - - -

Bullshit accumulates, and so far biology is the only really effective way of cleaning it up. It can accumulate to the point of poisoning a major party. "First past the post" election systems favour two-party systems (though the British definitely broke that old wisdom a bit up), and having one of only two relevant parties poisoned is a national tragedy. It's even worse if your constitution has the defect that different institutions can block each other very often and paralyse the country (it doesn't matter whether the country as a whole has put lipstick on the pig and pretends that such blockades are a feature, not a bug).

- - - - -

Now maybe you're a right winger and think that I've once again bashed right wingers. That should give you pause to THINK how the heck you think that such outlandish behaviour could be descriptive of your tribe.


Besides, I bash left wingers as well. There's just a huge difference between the real world consequences of left wing idiocy and right wing idiocy now that left wing parties don't push for planning economies any more and don't party with Stalin any more. (That's kinda the fashion in the right wing these days.)

One example; I was enticed to think that a lot of the trans stuff is bollocks and legislation should point at a certain way. Then I learned that much of that stuff was already settled law in Germany since 1981, with important addition by constitutional court decision in 2011. It was enlightening to me. Absolutely none of these rules have ever affected me, my family, friends nor did I ever notice anyone being affected. All of this controversy was entirely irrelevant to practical life as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, as an economist, I can tell that certain other policies make the difference between working poor and middle class for people whom I know. In fact, the pendulum is stuck at "working poor" for them. The whole trans bollocks is but a distraction from what matters for real. Thus I mock people who get exasperated about who gets to use which restroom.

I heard the siren's call clear and loud and I sailed on.

I wish more people could avoid getting stuck in ideological dead ends and would be able to focus on what matters for real. That would be a nice new year's resolution.




P.S.: My New Year's resolution is to be less lazy, both privately (working out) and on the job.



Prussian infantry singlemindedness

The Prussian army of 1741 won Frederick the Great's first battle because it was better drilled. It was capable of shooting about three shots per minute, while the opposing Austrian-Hungarian troops shot about two times per minute. The psychological pressure of getting shot at so much more often while the Prussian lines were advancing was too much for the Austrian-Hungarian infantry and it broke and ran.
Prussia had to become good at much else (cavalry charges, use of artillery, first all-mounted "horse" artillery brigades, improvements of skirmishing, battle manoeuvres) to prevail in that was and the next, but the infantry remained obsessed with shooting faster than the enemy.
1773 Prussia introduced a new ramrod for loading infantry muskets that had identical ends and thus the drill was shortened by eliminating the movement of turning the ramrod around.
1781 Prussia introduced a conical hole between the barrel and the pan where the flintlock's sparks ignite the blackpowder. This shortened the loading drill further, as the movement for adding blackpowder to that pan was eliminated and the movement to close the pan was eliminated. The blackpowder from the barrel now fell by itself into the pan through the conical hole.

The rate of fire was improved to about six rounds per minute. The infantryman carried 60 cartridges at that time, but the shooting order inevitably broke down in battle and even the best flint of the flintlock had to be replaced after about 50 shots, so there was enough munition for much more than 10 minutes of shooting.
That's how the Prussian army went to war with Revolutionary France and later Napoleonic France, but the infantry failed to impress in those battles. This was certainly in significant part to the increased numbers of artillery pieces in battles, but those had already risen before 1763. Inferior morale of the infantry was another issue. But maybe something else was wrong, too?

Let's look at the conical hole, which as far as I can tell is universally lauded as an improvement in literature.

This hole allowed blackpowder to fall into the pan from the barrel. The infantryman only needed to open the paper cartridge, pour teh blckpower into the musket muzzle and then ram the ball bullet down the barrel. So the blackpowder that was ignited by sparks was identical to the blackpowder that drove the lead ball forward in the barrel.
I see a problem here, and it is about the nature of blackpowder: Blackpowder is made of a carbon source (charcoal), an oxygen source (saltpetre) and sulfur. What's the purpose of sulfur? It's much more flammable than the others, so it can be ignited with adequate reliability by sparks (if dry). Adding more sulfur does actually not make the blackpowder more powerful. 
So you want a high sulfur content in the pan (to be ignited by the sparks) and low sulfur content blackpowder in the barrel. You can have that if you store and load a more sulfur-rich blackpowder for the ignition pan.
To have more sulfur in the barrel than necessary is wasteful and provokes supply issues in wartime. Flint was imported from France, England and Spain (Spain was usually at war with either Spain or France and allied with the other in 1740....1815), charcoal (preferably by hemp stem cores) could be produced anywhere, saltpetre could be won from any pigsty. Meanwhile, sulfur was imported from Italy.

So the Prussian method was economically wasteful, but that's not the whole issue: Sulfur is the part of blackpowder that makes blackpowder famous for producing much smoke.The smoke became an issue, as troops and leaders could not see their enemies well any more, as the smoke of muskets and cannons accumulated on the battlefield.
The Prussian infantry of the 1780's did not only shoot three times faster than the Austro-Hungarian infantry of 1740, it did also produce more smoke with every shot. This was done by an army that kept the three-rank line (as opposed to the British who used a two-rank line), another +50% smoke.

The Prussians had muskets that looked neat, but their buttstock was not angled well and made the use of sights very awkward. That didn't matter much, as the muskets didn't really have sights. Well, adding sights would not have helped past the first salvo anyway.

I suspect that the Prussian focus on infantry rate of fire was too singleminded and suboptimal. Skirmishing, morale (motivation) and coping with logistics austerity was much more important than nominal rate of fire in 1792...1815. Later, the ingeniously simple invention of the Minié ball allowed quick muzzle loading of rifles and for the first time the accuracy of fire of general infantry became most important.

P.S.: There are debates about what rates of fire were really achieved. There's no debate regarding Prussians loading and shooting more rapidly, that's consensus.
I used the book ISBN 3-8289-0521-8 to write this blog post, for I didn't want to fully rely on memory of what I read years ago.


The scariest army of them all


... would be an army that gets the basics right at every level, even if it has no luxuries, no bells & whistles, not a single piece of equipment newer than 20 years old design.

Like a perfect storm

Such an army would overrun more sluggish lethality-obsessed armies, it could outlast much larger Potemkin village armies, it would benefit from every season, it would be only mildly impeded by air power and it would generally have very lopsided (in its favour) "exchange ratios" in battle.

It would also be only mildly attractive to defence contractors, as they would not get many outsourcing contracts, and could not make much profit off gold plating development contracts. They would get a steady stream of revenue from good-sized munitions & spares orders, though.

Systemic deviations from the optimum

I understand that the leadership of most developed world armies wants to get the basics right, they probably even think they do. 

I strongly suppose they don't, based on the observation of symptoms. I strongly suppose there are systemic issues in group and organisation behaviour that lead to suboptimal outcomes. To get the basics right on all or nearly all levels requires to betray tactical and organisational traditions. It requires constant effort. It requires that you free up time from everyday activities to learn about what others do differently, why, and with what results. It requires to forego self-interest and peer - group self-interest in favour of the pursuit of getting at least the basics right.

Identify and fix

The concept may be abhorrent to many military fanbois, but the way to go is to bring in external economists (which the German military actually educates in its own university!), psychologists (same), historians and sociologists (including anthropologists!) to work out the patterns that drive the army bureaucracy away from optimum paths towards self-serving paths. Some additional research is needed to identify (and likewise call out) civilian influences that cause such harm as well.

We can aim to counter the bad patterns and influences once we understand them, and everyone who gets into high leadership positions needs to be briefed on these findings thoroughly. In fact, I would  have them educated to the point that they need to show they understood everything in tests, and have to work more on test questions where they failed to score. I'd rather have an interim leader and the designated leader stuck in a training course for months than to let anyone new into a high level position who does not understand the issues well.

The insiders can't fix themselves

It is utterly self-evident that the German professional officer corps is a failure. It's not their fault, really. Some wrong people got selected into it and the rest is also working within a rotten system, unable to decisively reform it from inside. They sure have a very high opinion of themselves, but their results are damning and their excuses (especially blaming politicians) are weak sauce considering how much goes wrong that a handful of politicians cannot possibly have been responsible for.

Example: The antiquated small arms training that got reformed only a couple years ago after generations of stagnation. No army officer can reasonably argue that ministers of defence forced the army to bring firearms training that's limited to 1920's style shooting ranges into the 21st century. Another example; the utterly unrealistic layout of exercise areas, which can easily be identified on satellite imagery because they stand out from the real world so much. Even the best built up training area could not be mistaken for any real world settlement. The army preferred to ask for gold-plated vehicles rather than to insist on realistic training (areas).

It's furthermore completely impossible that the German military wasted millions on Global Hawk drones that could never be used, but somehow it would be the civilian politicians' fault that we don't have a gazillion of dirt-cheap consumer-grade multicopters like the ones employed with success in Ukraine. They get money for a lot of crap, certainly they could have gotten funds for such drones if only they had prioritised it. It would even have been less than the famous 25 million threshold*, so political interference opportunities would have been minimised.**

Civilian overseers have to force a course change

The insiders cannot fix themselves, thus we need outsiders to do it. outsiders with the power to force and remove insiders, to break all resistance. The civilian leadership by politicians such as the minister of defence has this job.

This job hasn't been done for decades, though. Not a single German minister of defence did a decent job in the post-Cold War era. Rühe had to lead in a very demanding period (integration of East German military including retaining some officers, post Cold War downsizing) and certainly some things were done well back then, but he also launched a terrible, terrible refocus towards stupid "out of area" missions that brought practically zero benefit to the nation over the next three decades.

We need a competent minister of defence with a team of competent, trusted reformer managers and a competent civilian chief of staff. This minister and his team shall not become one with the armed bureaucracy, shall not adopt its self-interest as their self-interest. They shall be rewarded for exposing scandals and shaming failures, for firing and disbanding. The press usually instinctively does the opposite; it blames ministers of defence for what goes wrong in the armed forces. That's an incentive to cover up and keep things silent, rather than an incentive to clean the house of crap. The minister of defence should publish scandals themselves and the press should shame the predecessors for scandals instead (unless the minister has been in officer for more than the last three years already).

In the end, we need very few legislative changes. Most importantly, the entire approach towards the office of the minister of defence needs to change. No more no-clue non-specialised politicians shall be sent there to bury their career, to give them some office after they failed with some more grand ambitions or for mere party coalition offices distribution maths. We need reformers with a passion for breaking resistance and clearing out crap. Brutal personalities who don't bend arms to get what they want, but cut throats right away - so the peers understand the new direction of flow right away. We shall ignite a passion for clearing out bollocks among the officers and ignite the hope that the rotten institution becomes a deservedly proud one again.

Those generals? They're worthless pawns. They cannot repair the armed forces. The professional officers are the insider club whose autopilot is stuck on the wrong course. The minister of defence needs to be the power that drives reform. He/she/it (I REALLY don't care) has to change the course, and everyone who resists shall be eliminated from the armed bureaucracy, regardless of rank and the treatment should be as mean and disrespectful as possible within the limits of article 1 to discourage resistance by others.***

No need to shine

There's no need for anything spectacular, shiny, "sexy", super-impressive in an army or air force. We need no GUMLRS-ER missiles, for example. We need no dedicated national military radar satellite. We need no high end main battle tank. We need no F-35.

We need to get the basics right. We need stuff that works, in good quantity, with enough consumables, we need to be able to get it where we need it and when we need it, our troops need to know how to use it well, they need to be fit, alert, ready, deployable, motivated, confident, take care of each other, follow orders without delay according to the superior's intent. Command has to be modest, self-restrained, agile, clear, quick and imaginative. We don't need a hugely impressive military machine, but its gears need to be well-lubricated and sand-free.

And anyone who dares to stand in the way of achieving this shall be eliminated from the armed forces, period.




*: Orders bigger than € 25 million require additional parliamentary involvement.

**: That being said, I'm convinced that lobbying and "my region before the country" politicians in the armed forces committee are responsible for much money wasted on defective helicopters, defective transport aircraft, combat aircraft for which there are almost no spares or munitions and certain useless warships. These are no excuses for all the other things that went wrong, though.

*: German constitution, article 1 is a very general article that protects human dignity.



The Kremlin's puppets

Putin's regime is still playing the American far right like a fiddle.

They have buttons on their table, and they know exactly what happens when they press the button "American right wing shall hate other Americans and their president some more".

So POTUS wanted the two Americans who are being held with dubious criminal convictions in Russia, and his diplomats negotiated. The Russian regime did the obvious thing; it maximised how much damage it can do, for the U.S. has nobody in custody whom they really want freed.


They gave POTUS a young, black, female and Cannabis-using and lesbian citizen back and categorically rejected the notion of releasing the other guy, a former Marine.

Naturally, the far right sprang into action and began hating, as if POTUS had betrayed the good guy to get some woke (the word they use on everything they hate these days, but cannot defined properly) person back instead.

There was hate on the freed captive, hate on the president, ... utterly predictable.

But why was there such hate? Wouldn't a patriotic party be glad that a fellow citizen was freed? Wouldn't it be glad that the president had a success?

What does it take to hate and be outraged instead? Maybe it takes hating about half of the own country, and putting party partisanship before country?

The remarkable thing about this exchange is that it happened despite the reactions being so completely predictable. POTUS obviously decided that freeing a fellow citizen would be worth the backlash to freeing a fellow citizen. He's put country before party politics. This was clearly no issue suitable to mobilise followers for the next elections (which are now very distant), so this degree of selflessness is plausible.

By the way, that "marine"? Discharged for bad conduct. A thief. The reflexive militarism that was exposed by the reactions was interesting. "marine" = "good guy" was implied, because militarism. He's neither. The marines don't think he's one of them, they didn't want him to be one of them. A thief.

He's still a citizen who should be repatriated, but that was not on the table. And the reason for that is probably the far right wing. Their predictable response to him not getting freed is what made it so unattractive to the Kremlin to let him go.

BTW, the lying moron had two years time to get Whelan for Bout only if that was ever a possible deal. He didn't. Well, coherent thoughts are not a requirement to become a hyperpartisan hater who hates half of the own people.

The Russian regime needs to play slightly different tunes to control the German far right (or the German far left), but it knows how to do that as well. These days show who's truly the vaterlandslose Gesellen.

It's important and valuable to expose who gets played how easily and clearly. Keep in mind who's a puppet of the Kremlin, dancing by the Kremlin's tune, when you get to vote again!



BTW, if you think Bud is going to be a big arms dealer again, maybe importing weapons fro Putin: Bollocks. His business model was to bribe high-ranking officers to sell him what's in Russia's arms warehouses and he had a fleet of old cargo aircraft to deliver those weapons. If anything, Putin is angry at him because this guy is a big part of the reason why the Russian army lacks equipment for mobilization and a small part of the reason why it's so corrupt and lying so much.



Artillery - philosophies and competence


There's a saying - Artillery conquers, infantry occupies. The American Maneuver Warfare military reformers of the 80's and 90's used this to describe the French First World War approach, which the American army adopted as it became the French army's apprentice as late-comer to WWI.

The effect of this on American thinking about artillery and air/ground attack is indeed profound. Lethality here, lethality there. It's all about lethality.

The Russians seem to follow it as well.

Those who follow this philosophy have good arguments; there were battles if not entire wars in which indirect fires accounted for about 80% of casualties. The current Russo-Ukrainian War appears to follow this pattern as well. 

But there is a different way of thinking. Air power could be thought of as impediment to logistics, and thus to operational agility. An increase of its lethality could even be counter-productive

Artillery could be thought of as an enabler to battlefield manoeuvres of land forces.

Let's say there's a patch of 100x200 m woodland from which an  infantry force of 30...150 personnel (not exactly known) can fire on vehicles in 2 km radius with missiles and call artillery fires onto infantry in the same radius.

The "Artillery conquers, infantry occupies" school of thought would destroy this force by bombarding the entire patch of woodland, thoroughly. They might want to have a bird's view on it, so troops who evaded to open fields could be shot at as well. The defenders may have dug in properly, so a very high density of 155 mm shells of multiple very big bombs such as Mk 84 (914 kg GP bomb) or special thermobaric/fuel air explosive munitions would be needed. The amount of fires would be calculated to destroy the force. Then infantry in IFVs or APCs would drive to the patch of tree stems, dismount, count the bodies and take a few prisoners.

The Maneuverist school of thought would do this very differently. It would execute a very brief but intense bombardment by artillery and/or mortar HE munitions  and would rush in with the infantry mere seconds after these "neutralising" fires were lifted. They would assume that the brief but intense bombardment has "neutralised" the defenders. That's a state of shock that goes away within minutes. At most a handful of defenders would open fire on the advancing troops, and they would easily be overwhelmed by direct fires. Almost all defenders would be taken prisoners.

So let's sum up. 

Advantages of Maneuvrist approach:

  • less munitions expended
  • less firepower needed
  • less planning required
  • quicker
  • less killing
  • smaller calibre artillery and mortars suffice, may even be better
  • enables rapid advance through deep defences without extreme amount of fire support

Advantages of the "Artillery conquers, infantry occupies" approach:

  • Your officers don't need to be smart about land warfare.


I mentioned the 80% casualties by indirect fires statistic. This is true and valid, but you can achieve a much better statistic if you have a large competence advantage. Operation Barbarossa caused about 4.5 million personnel losses to the Soviet Union in 1941. Half of these were prisoners of war. The Axis forces could not have defeated that much personnel and could not have advanced that quickly if they had relied on "Artillery conquers, infantry occupies". They did use up the ingredients of this success (competent infantrymen were worn out, logistics vehicles were worn out, strong horses were lost, motorcycles were worn out) in the later years, but the events of 1940 and 1941 show that if you have a big competence advantage and the means to exploit it, you can do much better than the firepower fetishists.

The philosophical difference is between surprise & shock or lethality of fires. It's obvious how laymen and undereducated army officers gravitate towards the latter. It requires much less understanding of what happens and what works in battles. Most superficial knowledge suffices to understand the 'lethality über alles!' approach.

The lethality approach is nevertheless the approach to go with if you lack competence in your officer corps or if you cannot or don't want to advance. If all you can really do is shoot, you shoot - regardless of whether something else would be better if you just could do that as well.


Firepower's lethality fascinates laymen just as much as the Americans (I'm not sure about today's Frenchmen). The focus on lethality should be a fallback position for when you can't do better.






BTW, the loss of DPICM bomblet munition to the cluster munitions ban doesn't seem to be all that bad when you expect enemies to use overhead cover or if you just want neutralising fires (which works fine with "unitary" HE munitions). Yet the theoretical lethality advantage of DPICM made it the dominant munition in the U.S. Army of the late Cold War (something like 70% of 155 mm rounds were DPICM if my memory of a secondary source serves well).



Yet another blog post on reserves


There's a substantial difference between modern NATO-style armies and how most of their predecessor armies (other than troops used in colonies) did it in the 1880...1945 period.

Armies of old developed an officer corps (and some of them also a senior non-commissioned officer corps) to have qualified leadership for a huge mobilised army ready. This included some briefly-trained reserve officers and reserve junior NCOs, which usually had a good education (and thus social) background.

Enlisted personnel was trained and then discharged after at most three years, often two years. The idea wasn't to have super-competent enlisted personnel. The idea was to be able to mobilise millions for the next great war. Peacetime strength of the army was of much lesser importance than wartime (mobilised) strength.

I should more often use images to break up text walls again

The training shortcomings of the time up to 1916 weren't rooted in this; they were rooted in a lack of understanding how best to tackle tactical problems. It was later shown over and over again that you can train young men to become highly proficient enlisted personnel in less than two years. In fact, in times past many junior officers had less military experience than that and were sent to lead men in battle, often even without anyone more experienced supporting them.

Modern armed forces are very much concerned with peacetime personnel strength. But what's the point of having enlisted man on active duty for more than two years? His learning curve has flattened already, he's little more than a prop for a handful of junior leaders to gain experience in leadership and management. Couldn't those learn their trade also by training another class of enlisted personnel? Two men serving two years as enlisted personnel each gives about the same experience to the junior leaders as one man serving four years.And they are about twice as much enlisted personnel in wartime.

To recruit two young men for each two years is harder than to recruit one for two years and then bribe him to re-enlist, of course.

Our modern armed forces have thus been formed by the socio-economic background, just as knights were a product of their feudal time, for example. I'm jut a bit irritated that people seem to believe that this way of running an army is superior, "professional", possibly even "elite". It's a recipe for having too small trained reserves for when you need to have a numerically strong army.

NATO can keep following this recipe as long as it doesn't fight a land war against India or China. We are outnumbering the peacetime Russian armed forces roughly 2:1 with European NATO alone. Recent events have show that Russia cannot mobilise any better than we could. So it's safe to keep following this path in NATO, albeit it's guaranteed to be cost-inefficient.

What about countries that are not part of such a large (and effective, unlike CSTO) alliance? They should abstain from some follies like miniature balanced forces (such as having a navy just because you have a coastline, or running a single squadron of Mach 2 strike fighters). They should also absolutely abstain from the "professional" army model.

It takes more than just a budget to motivate enough young men (and women) to volunteer for a relatively brief military service, but they would do it if it's a career boost rather than a career speed bump. There's no need for conscription in most countries. Yet for deterrence and defence there's a need for quantity. Look at Ukraine and Russia; both need plenty infantry for the oh-so usual infantry tasks. The terrain is mostly open fields, but the demand for infantry is still extremely high. Russia in particular did not prepare, and can apparently not mobilise infantry in quantity with decent equipment and at least modest (six months) training.

Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Vietnam, South Korea, Pakistan and Philippines need substantial infantry reserves. The NATO model of land forces would be a folly for them.





The military technology death spiral

The quintessential platforms of army, navy and air forces seem to get more and more expensive, and ever less affordable. This was sometimes described as a "death spiral" and may lead to a point when it's about time to give up on such a platform concept. 
I will try to offer a concise, illustrated explanation of this very important phenomenon. My model is simplified* and assumes among other things that there's always a counter to a counter possible.
- - - - -
At first, let's look at a simple modelling of a spiral between attack and defence. A form of attack (or firepower) is introduced, which provokes a countermeasure that largely or entirely mitigates this capability. The response is an improved attack capability that overcomes the defence. Rinse, repeat.
This was seen in tank development, when penetrative ability of tank guns and protective ability of tank armour were competing. Alternatively, you could think of the tank's protection as enabling attacks and as anti-tank guns ' ability to penetrate the tank's armour as the defensive side.

(click on image for a bigger version)

The costs of attacking and defensive abilities escalate together with said abilities. A 3.7 cm anti-tank gun did cost much less than a 8.8 cm anti-tank gun, and 15 mm of steel plate did cost less than 100 mm of steel plate. My model assumes that capability and costs are proportional (normally costs rise more than proportionally) to reduce one layer of detail that doesn't matter right now.
You see an additional dimension in the next diagram; the utility or usefulness (for deterrence, in warfare or both).
This scenario shows a rising usefulness, as the platform becomes more capable over time. Still, the escalating costs may eventually exceed the usefulness in warfare. The entire concept of this platform (which unites offensive and defensive capabilities such as a strike fighter, a tank or a destroyer) should be questioned at the latest at this break-even point. Further improvements are not worth the associated expenses. Different ways of 'doing business' in war should be found. The platform that unites offensive and defensive abilities is likely already obscenely expensive at this point.
Many metrics could be used to describe usefulness, such as how deadly a platform is, but in the end this is not a value that can truly be calculated. The entire model does not offer a formula for calculation. It is meant to create awareness in the reader's mind about this break-even point and why it will be reached eventually.
The next diagram shows a different, more pessimistic scenario. The platform's usefulness in warfare actually degrades as its evolution is driven by the attack-defence spiral instead of by the mission.

Medieval knights were a good example for this. They were initially an all-round mounted force, but at the latest by the 11th century the weight of armour reduced their utility to a specialised battlefield shock attack force. The personnel also gained a high social status. Other cavalry tasks such as scouting or foraging were thus usually left to light cavalry. Horse cavalry only re-united into a unified cavalry in the 19th century when firepower had won so clearly over the cavalry's defence that the heavy cavalry niche became impractical.

The next diagram shows a special case in which the costs of a system escalate not as a sum of attack and defence, but are almost entirely about one of both. A fortress' costs are being driven almost entirely by its defensive qualities, and a land attack missile system's costs may be driven almost entirely by its offensive qualities. The break-even point will nevertheless be reached eventually.
Asymmetric arms races (such as cruise missiles versus air defence missiles) add another aspect. The offensive capability may keep getting funded for good reasons after its costs exceed its direct utility: Such a decisions an be justified by taking into account indirect utility; the expenses incurred on the opposing forces for defence against the threat. Land attack cruise missiles won't be self-defeating by high costs if the defence against them are more expensive missiles. Then the production of the threat system (cruise missile) would be escalated as long as the opposing forces waste their resources trying to build up a defence against it. Finally, the defenders may cease to throw more resources into a hopeless arms race and then the optimum for the threat system (cruise missile) would in theory exist: A maximised difference between the (sum of direct and indirect) utility and the (lower) expenses for it.
So in the end, the asymmetric arms races can be described using the same graphics, just keep in mind that utility = direct utility and indirect utility in such cases.
- - - - -
Certain platforms -especially tanks- have been proclaimed "dead" when a new iteration of a counter looked particularly convincing, such as the rise of anti-tank guided missiles in the 1960's. But engineers usually find a new iteration that counters the counter, such as composite and reactive armours that kept 1960's anti-tank missiles from penetrating most of a 1980's tank's front. Potential technical counters are known to just about all forms of attack today. Likewise, counters to just about all forms of defence can be found.
I assert - and this model visualizes -  that the real death knell for a concept is not some spectacular-looking iteration of a counter to it: It's that the death spiral of escalating costs does at some point exceed the usefulness (the utility) of a platform. This doesn't necessarily stop the evolution, though. Usefulness in warfare cannot easily be monetised and compared to expected costs of a platform evolution step. We may - and likely do so regularly - keep going in the death spiral, wasting resources on platforms that have long become inefficient.

The exact quantity of iterations until the cost-utility break even varies.
The figures in the diagrams are symbolic.

You may use and modify the model with proper attribution (author Sven Ortmann, Defence & Freedom blog).
*: Models should be simple and reduced to one thought or essence when meant for explanation. Complicated models are good for simulation purposes only.


On infantry


On infantry, because it's still such an essential building block of every army and the misconceptions are legion.

Prepared defence

Infantry has a certain pattern of what it needs to do in a prepared defence (not an official term) situation. It shall remain undetected, outposts shall intercept enemy scouts and force hostile attackers to deploy from march formation. They shall slow down hostiles (maybe even guard obstacles), so friendly indirect fires have ample opportunity to hit them and friendly HQ and reserves have enough time to react to the attackers. Most importantly, the outposts / screening force / patrols protect positions and troops farther 'back' against the enemy ground reconnaissance. Few are exposed to great risks in order to reduce the risk for the formation as a whole. The outpost infantry better change position briefly after revealing itself, so one should not think of outposts (and their even smaller pickets, which you need when and where fields of view are really short) as static positions. To dig in is fine, but you better change position once hostile arty knows your position.

A main line of resistance is farther behind the outposts and it's meant to not just slow down, but to stop the attackers for good. The main line of resistance can become a new outpost line with a new main line of resistance created farther in the back, or alternatively some counter attack or counterstroke (flank counterattack) expels the attackers from the outpost zone. Either way, the main line of resistance positions should not be used after uncovered. The whole secret to success in such a defence is to

  • avoid detection of positions until they open fire to slow the advance down and to
  • direct powerful indirect fires on hostiles, preferably even before they launch the attack.

The infantry does not shoot much in this prepared defence scenario. It probably gets shot at ten times as much as it gets to shoot. Indirect fires (mortars, tube artillery, rockets) are the big killers, while infantry is in this scenario more of a stopping force than a killing force.

Infantry assault

It's near-impossible to succeed by attacking with companies or battalions in a long skirmish line as if it was still 1913. It didn't really work back then, either. The infantry breaks down into small teams and these teams manoeuvre through the battlefield, exploiting microterrain for cover and concealment. Surprise is very important, so they need to be disciplined regarding shooting, talking, using radios and exposing themselves. Both the element of surprise and survival require that they avoid being detected until they are in close contact with the enemy.

A large attack is a disjointed line of advancing infantry platoons. Some will be stopped early, others will break into the hostile positions. The successful ones need to receive reinforcements quickly, while the not successful ones should rather receive smoke support so they can break contact. The reinforcements need to exploit the break-in as quickly as possible for maximum success. The platoon that succeeded to break into the defensive network will likely not be able to quickly push on. It's going to prepare for defence instead,  particularly flank security. It has almost certainly wounded comrades and prisoners of war to deal with.

Attacking infantry can rarely win a firefight on its own against peer infantry without suffering many casualties, and in some situations it's entirely impossible. Suppressive small arms fires are helpful, but rarely perfect. Infantry can quickly run out of munitions, especially grenades. 1st choice for suppression (or neutralisation) is to use indirect fires, 2nd choice is to use armoured vehicles and last resort is to let the infantry make the enemy fight less in order to succeed itself.* Our suppression effort is all about having fewer opponents shooting at us, lethality is of little interest. 

The attention on killing (milporn videos in social media, mil-industrial complex promoting wonder weapons) distracts from the necessity to make the alive enemies shoot less so our troops advance again. It's much better to capture a company of 100 men in a day with reconnaissance, a couple hundred shells fired and a surprising assault than to kill it over a month of bombardment with € 50 million worth of precision munitions!

Indirect fires are again the main killers on the attack. The infantry's job is not so much to kill the defenders as to make their position untenable and to then hold terrain. Infantry is not very good at pursuit, so an offensive that does not include an exploitation of a break-in or breakthrough by tanks is going to cause much less losses to the attacked force than an attack with such a mounted exploitation component.

An important job for the infantry is to take prisoners of war. Great tactics with good resources should lead to more prisoners of war than hostiles killed in action. So in a way, the best offensive use of infantry is more about them not shooting hostiles dead than about them shooting hostiles dead.

- - - - -

I've seen much writing and much obsession with infantry firepower that signalled very different ideas of what infantry is good for, and I do blame in part the stupid occupation wars and unhealthy special forces fanboiism for this. 

Russian mobilised infantrymen complain that they're cannon fodder. They get mortared or shelled multiple times in their dugout position in some woodland and can't do anything by themselves.

Well, guess what? Western infantry would not feel much better in prepared defence or on the attack. The infantry's job is not so much the killing and destroying by shooting as just being there, then moving somewhere else and be a presence there. They're in large part simply movable targets for artillery once exposed. Infantry is exposed to indirect fires because it's necessary to have someone there to slow down or stop attackers, to dislodge defenders, to take prisoners of war.

Infantry was the main arm of killing in the age of rifles from the 1850's to 1880's. It was clear by 1915 that it's not the main arm of killing any more and it will likely never regain that status. Indirect fires did  60...90% of the harm to hostile troops in pitched battles since about 1915.

The problem is that you simply need infantry for the mentioned tasks.



P.S.: I did approximately describe highly effective tactics that were actually known since WW2 at the latest, but are still not commonly taught in all major armies, or in all of NATO. Some armies have an astonishing ability to ignore tactics that deliver greater success, and to ignore scholars who point out the military history evidence and field exercise results that support this. Personally, I'd recommend testing some alternative ways of doing business, particularly on the defence, as I see promising conceptual alternatives there.

*: Combat in settlements that were not bombed or shelled much is a special case; the attackers can use the cover and concealment by buildings to mass locally and execute a push with well-prepared suppressive fires on a limited amount of possible firing positions while blocking roads with longitudinal machinegun fires (by tank or infantry) to isolate the local defenders. Buildings known to house a substantial quantity of defenders can be precision-bombed on call. The attacker is actually enjoying advantages inside settlements, so the defenders may use an picket/outpost line to reduce how many troops are exposed to such attacks and to free up troops for locally massed offensive actions. High tactical skill on both sides will lead to outskirts having merely observation posts, then there would be mobile pickets and both sides would strive to 'win' with a series of attacks with limited objectives. Many more troops would be detailed for suppressive fires and covering routes than for assault duty.



Suppression by infantry weapons


I'm going to insert a small piece on suppression by infantry fires, as the comments in the last piece on short and long range infantry brought this up.

The bigger calibre (7.62x51 mm rather than 5.56x45 mm) is widely believed to suppress effectively in a large radius around the trajectory. The suppression effect stems from justified fear after hearing the sonic crack of a bullet passing nearby. So no subsonic bullets for suppression, please. The bigger calibre weighs more and is more bulky than the smaller one, but it can still be more efficient if you don't expect to miss very closely. So suppressing someone who occasionally pokes his head out of two windows may better be done with 5.56x45 mm single shots, while suppressing a line of hedges 30 m wide at 300 m distance is much better left to the 7.62x51 mm calibre.

Suppression knows two phases; 

  1. Gain fire superiority; the aiming and shooting hostiles get scared by bullets passing by closely and take cover.
  2. Maintaining the suppression; the repeated shots keep the hostiles scared. They may expose themselves once in a while to shoot, but they won't aim and may very well miss by 20°. They may also resort to "spray & pray", not exposing more than hands and lower arms. 


"One rule of thumb states that a soldier will become suppressed if a bullet passes within one metre of him every second, and stay suppressed if one bullet passes within one metre every  three seconds. [...] The one-metre rule does not fit with what has been seen in real small-arms firefights. For example, Second World War [when mostly calibres similar to 7.62x51 mm were used] field studies suggested that one round passing within three metres every six seconds would appreciably degrade return fire from a whole fire-team, and two rounds every three seconds would prevent any return fire at all."

"War Games  The psychology of combat" by Leo Morray

Neither phase works on hostiles who use a periscope and don't need to expose themselves to aim & shoot. This is particularly relevant for well-sited tripod-mounted machineguns.

We saw remote-controlled sniper rifles used in Syria and other conflicts; these won't be suppressed, either. 

cover > concealment > suppression

Much depends on the situation and on the small unit leadership here. A well-trained non-commissioned officer leading the infantry section is often expected to control and direct the firing of the section machinegun (especially if it's a 7.62x51 mm GPMG). He's supposed to use magnifying optics to find and identify the main threat, then order suppressive fires on it. The rest of the squad should shoot in the approximate direction he directs, and cease fire when he signals it. A section leader who can do this with a disciplined squad may succeed with phase 1 very quickly and with relatively small munition expenditure. He'll also be able to transition to phase 2 soon and thus save even more munitions. Let's call this section "frugal".

Other infantry sections (and indeed other armies) will react to shots taken at them with mad firing, guessing where it comes from and expending a thousand or more rounds as a section in a minute. They may also not be frugal with munition in phase 2. Let's call this section "mad minute".

Section "frugal" can very well do its job with 5.56x45 mm calibre and even machinegunners using 30 rounds magazines ("automatic rifleman"). At least one thermal sight (for the section leader, ideally periscopic) will help greatly. Their weapons will not overheat, and they can easily carry enough munitions for an afternoon of (non-continuous) firefights. 

Section "mad minute" does not require as much training, but it would be best-served to have one if not two (as late German WW2 mechanised infantry sections) 7.62x51 mm GPMGs. Its optimal weapons are much heavier and it needs to carry more and heavier munitions. It may very well be a lot less lethal and it's certainly less agile on the battlefield due to the greater weights. An upside is that it's going to be better when the locations of hostiles are very hard to discern or if the section needs to gain fire superiority almost instantaneously, as it has no decent cover available. Furthermore, its weapons will have an edge at penetrating obstacles and hard body armour.

So you can go all lightweight on small arms (all 5.56x45 mm carbines and magazine-fed light machineguns/"automatic rifles", modest quantity of rounds carried) and greatly emphasise agility, but you need to be capable of applying the firefight drills that work with that.



P.S.: A factor for suppression may very well be whether the suppressed hostiles think they know where the shots are coming from. They may have engaged a section and suppress it, then get engaged and suppressed by another section. They will feel extra fear of the unknown until they believe they know where the second section is. Morale will be hurt especially much if the 2nd section wasn't expected (hostile reinforcements always hurt morale if it's not a turkey shoot) and if it's shooting from the flank or even from the back.


edit: https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/03/trench-warfare-revisited-armenias.html



The golden calibre


Pre-Dreadnought battleships and some armoured cruisers often had a large calibre secondary armament. The ship designers thought it was not quite practical to add more of the primary calibre (usually 11 or 12 inches) guns in wing turrets, and proceeded to add as powerful guns port and starboard of the centreline as possible.

HMS Agamemnon (c) Emoskopes

This practice ended with HMS Dreadnought, and literature usually frames it like this:

The new fire control techniques involved correcting salvo fires, and it took as a rule of thumb at least a salvo of six shells of identical guns to properly observe and thus properly adjust the fall of shot. Similarly large secondary artillery fires or salvoes by other warships on the same target made fall of shot attribution more difficult. Thus the warship designers attempted to have a large-enough calibre for penetrating battleship armour and install this with as big a broadside (6..14 tubes) as affordable on one battleship, which accordingly grew in size.

This is all correct, but a different framing works as well, and explains battleship designs of the Inter-War Years:

Manual loading was quick, reliable and safe only up to a shell weight of about 45 kg, corresponding to six inches calibre (155 mm). Heavier shells required machine-assisted loading, which was slower than manual loading until the 1940's (autoloader 8" guns of Des Moines class cruisers). The 5.5...6" (139...155 mm) calibre range was furthermore considered the minimum to very effectively combat warships of large torpedoboat or destroyer sizes. 4" (100...105 mm) and even about 5" (120...133 mm) were not highly regarded for stopping power against such targets, but were preferred against aircraft.

It made thus little sense to use a bigger secondary artillery calibre than 6" (155 mm).

The calibres between 6" and 8" (such as 17 or 19 cm) largely disappeared after the First World War. They fired almost as slowly as a 12" gun (German ~15" guns of WW2 reached 3.3 rounds per minute).

U.S.American 1930's 6" L/47 gun: 8...10 rounds per minute 

U.S.American 1930's 8" L/55 gun: 3...4 rounds per minute

The optimum, was in the 1920's a 14...15" primary battleship artillery coupled with 5.5...6" secondary artillery (which could be limited to rear 270°, as the best reaction to torpedo-carrying light forces was to go flank speed away from them unless they were detected only very close). 2 pdr pom-poms were the best choice against torpedo bombers and MTBs. The secondary artillery could deal with airships, except for lone cruisers, which might want to have a single 90° elevation 3" (75 mm) gun for that (also as salute gun).

The 28 cm and 33 cm (~13") gun calibres used by new-built ships in Germany and France were kind of budget solutions, suitable for defeating cruisers and unsuitable for battle against battleships. The 8" (~20.3 cm) calibre of the standard heavy cruisers was artificially set by a multinational treaty as limit for cruisers, nobody believed that it was a technical optimum.

The optimum of the 1930's was different, as aircraft had become more threatening. One mix was a divided ~6" secondary artillery with an anti-air 3.5...4" tertiary artillery, but the Americans probably got it right by combining both into their very good 5" L/38 gun.

- - - - -

I wrote this as an introduction to the concept of a 'golden middle' for artillery calibres.

The 6" calibre was in naval warfare (and in today's army artillery, apparently) the biggest practical calibre before rate of fire fell off very badly, turning guns relatively inefficient against unarmoured or weakly armoured oats and ships.

 - - - - -

Fast forward, and moving to land:

There's again a debate about tank gun calibres. A debate that was postponed in the 1990's, when Germany lengthened its 120 mm smoothbore gun and gave it more powerful propellant, too. The quest for greater penetration power was slowed by a lack of tank protection advances in Eastern Europe and by a focus on improving the projectiles to better deal with late 1980''s protection (heavy ERA). 

There were 140 mm tank guns tested in the Western World during the late 1980's and 1990s, but they were not introduced yet.

prototype of Swiss Leopard 2 version, upgraded with 140 mm gun

The German-developed 120 mm smoothbore calibre became a Western de facto standard, while the Soviet legacy 125 mm smoothbore was the competing standard. 125 mm was already too large for manual loading, and was loaded by autoloaders - and in two parts. The separation of ammunition and propellant had a very detrimental effect by the 1980's, when continued development of the arrow projectiles of APFSDS led to longer 'long rod' arrow projectiles than did and do fit into the Soviet-style 125mm shot. The Western munition coped by letting the projectile protrude into the propellant, and thus gained superior penetration despite the smaller calibre.

The Russians moved on in terms of MBT protection with their T-14 Armata tank, so Western developers are again looking at bigger guns.

There's the Rheinmetall 130 mm gun  

There are now again 140 mm tank gun projects:

The problem with these guns isn't the barrel, which really cannot get significantly longer than the 120 mm L/55 or the 125 mm barrel anyway.

The problem is now the munition. It has gotten unbelievably large to the point that (being of fixed nature, not separate propellant) manual loading is out of question. You need an autoloader for that. Autoloaders are today no more slower than manual loading, but they add a probability of technical failure (~mission self-kill), add cost, add maintenance demands and eliminate a crewmember that participates in security, situational awareness and maintenance efforts. An upside is that the vehicle can be built with a bit lower silhouette with an autoloader.

Moreover, the enormous cartridge size permits for very few cartridges carried, especially if you want to carry the cartridges safely, such as in the turret bustle behind blast doors.

This enormous munition size is really only needed for one thing; a powerful-enough APFSDS shot to penetrate T-14 Armata crew capsule from the frontal 60°.

A 105 mm shell is plenty for just about every other purpose. It may not collapse a family home in one shot, but you can easily shoot twice for the same effect as one 155 mm HE shell would have on it. All armoured vehicles other than MBT frontal protection (would be penetrated by a good 105 mm APFSDS shot. All kinds of 105 mm shots other than smoke and cannister are guaranteed to ruin the turret of a T-14 Armata, achieving a firepower kill.

Is the ability for frontal penetration of the T-14 Armata crew capsule really worth the effort of an even bigger gun than 120 mm L/55?

It sounds like extremism, fanatism and tunnel vision to me. It's regrettable that the German army and arms industry have been especially fixated on APFSDS and frontal 60° tank duels (both concerning firepower and protection).

One should remember that there's an alternative to a bigger gun that can do the very same thing for the tank, from within it: A powerful rocket. The only drawback of the HVM approach is that they need some time for acceleration, thus the ability to penetrate a T-14 Armata hull capsule over the frontal 60° may have a minimum range of a couple hundred metres. You could still mess up its turret at such distances with a gun in the 75...105 mm band, and its sensors with just about anything (including machineguns), but notably with 30 mm autocannon firing AHEAD.

In other words; tanks may have found a golden middle for tank gun calibres decades ago. The candidates are 75...120 mm with single piece munition (75...105 or 90 mm only in combination with missiles). 120 mm smoothbore is the golden middle if one rejects HVMs.



The story is very different for stub guns



*: Warships smaller than 3,000 tons had at most fragmentation protection armour and early on they also made use of filled coal bunkers to stop fragments. They did not really stop shells.