Numbers are hard

Numbers are hard, and randomly very scary or not scary at all to many people.

A long time ago I was paid to tutor a pupil who had difficulty with math. Those difficulties could be summarised as 'he stopped understanding math by grade 5 and doesn't take the concept of math seriously'. By bad luck one of the next chapters to tutor was set theory. Neither the boy nor his mother had any idea what set theory could possibly be good for -it's not even calculation- and he took it even less seriously. It was also nigh-impossible to justify some more hours to make him understand the chapter. Learning and understanding set theory is an almost indispensable step towards not boing a bullshit-blathering idiot as an adult.


Set theory teaches to sort thoughts and to keep apart what doesn't belong together.

Fast forward to our time, it has become painfully obvious that most humans simply cannot understand exponential functions, specifically exponential growth. Math at school didn't educate them. I looked at Covid figures in March 2020 and concluded it's going to be a huge thing while it was still tiny. I had no means of including the effects of countermeasures and whatever else leads to plague waveforms. I had the official daily case figures in a spreadsheet and told the standard software to extrapolate with an exponential function because I understood that my brain alone could not handle exponential growth and I also understood that exponential growth is a thing and the spread of a virus can be near-exponential. I ended up calculating the first million cases in Germany for a much-too early date, but I was far from failing to understand how an unchecked wave would propagate before I saw any politician showing such understanding. Almost two years later, many people are way beyond just not understanding exponential growth; about a tenth to a fifth of the population appears to have performed a 10 m high dive into total bullshit, welcoming the bullshit, becoming one with the bullshit.

'Numbers are hard' was also at work in regard to military (im-)balance in Europe. I'm the kind of guy who looks into things like IISS "Military Balance" yearbook or studies and then actually compares the figures before trying to (in a fuzzy way) take into account the not really known qualitative differences and the geographic divides.



I do hardly ever see anything of this kind in any discussion or commentary. The usual opinion appears to pretend that the Russian army is the Red Army of 1989 with some new gear while European NATO hardly has any armed forces. Military think tank types tend to avoid giving written evidence of such thinking, but their written and published conclusions are often very much compatible with such a view.

Nowadays I see press reports (now I'm not talking about subject matter experts) about threatening Russian "force concentrations" on Ukraine's border. Yet whenever they become more specific such as stating "100,000 army troops" or a map, I cannot see any Russian army concentration on the Ukraine's borders AT ALL.

The supposed Russian army forces concentrations are outnumbered by the Ukrainian army (and the Russian troops and Russian proxy troops in Donbass don't change this picture to a clear Russian numerical superiority). Those supposed Russian army concentrations are also dispersed in great depth and width, but reading the scale on maps is hard, I guess. What do these press people suppose where the Russian army should have its troops, in Siberia? Does nobody remember how awfully close to the Iron Curtain the NATO had its forces throughout the Cold War?

another illustration: nytimes.com/interactive/2022/01/07/world/europe/ukraine-maps.html

The total strength of the Russian Army in the Western and Southern Military Districts minus what's in the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave and what's indispensable near St. Petersburg and Moscow is still likely too much to bite for the Ukrainian Army, but that's not news. It's always been this way.
The press supposes we (or the Ukrainians) should be scared of "100,000 !!!!" Russians. Well, I'm not easily scared (I don't like to lean against large windows or lean over balconies and that's it), and I refuse to be scared by the alarmist news about the Russian army dispositions. The unusual thing is to move the troops out of their mildly comfortable barracks in wintertime and the really frustrating threat o the Ukraine is the vastly superior Russian air power. The actual quantity of boots on the ground near the Ukrainian border could be considered consistent with Russia positioning its troops for defence (I'm not saying this is the purpose).

So once again, a public too dumb or too lazy to pay attention to numbers and fairly simple calculations appears to misunderstand reality grossly.



Twitter account

I've set up a twitter account with the intent to first describe the blog a bit and then 'tweet' a mix of new (Saturdays) and old (when I feel it) blog posts as an additional gateway to the blog.
Feel free to follow and do whatever people do on twitter. Just pretty please make mommy proud of your manners in the replies there. 

twitter: @DefenceFreedom



Ukraine crisis and obligations (rant)


There's some bitching about Germany not delivering weapons tot he Ukraine, a country with an ongoing limited defensive war against its neighbour Russian federation and the latter's proxies.

For starters, the legal situation in Germany is such that the delivery of weapons and munitions to the Kurds for their fight against daesh was a very astonishing and extremely unusual move. It may even have been illegal, but I haven't seen any legal studies about this topic.

The British were lauded in contrast to Germany for delivering anti-tank missiles. Lauding the British? Really?

Anti-tank missiles are close to useless for the Ukrainians. Yes, defeating Russian and Russian-delivered tanks was a huge problem for them in the battles and skirmishes of the past years, but this has to be considered in the context of the Russians refraining from using their air force (they only used some small drones for the sake of non-credible deniability). An invasion of the Ukraine by the Russian army forces that the news are about would certainly include air power. Even perfect flawless anti-tank armament would not save the Ukrainians in that case. 

- - - - -

Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine, which was about Ukraine giving up the nukes it inherited from the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation guaranteed the sovereignty of the Ukraine in its then known borders (with Crimea Ukrainian) in written form, signed and ratified.*


2. The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

This means that the Russian Federation under the kleptocrat-in-chief is just as useless a treaty partner as was the U.S. under the lying moron. Anyone doing any deal with them should insist that they deliver first.

- - - - -

So what does the UK have to do when the Ukraine is under attack?

4. The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

Meanwhile, I will give you a summary of the German obligations if the Ukraine comes under attack, to the best of my knowledge:

jack shit

- - - - -

Here's my assessment of the crisis:

Putin would have overrun the Ukraine if he meant to. He would have overrun the East Ukraine if he meant to. The Russian Military would not need months of publicly known preparations to overrun the Ukraine. 

To overrun the entire Ukraine would be self-defeating, as the strong Ukrainian nationalism would guarantee a messy guerilla war for years if not decades to come and the West would be incentivised to support it. Overrunning the East Ukraine (where there's a large Russian population) would be self-defeating as well, as the remaining West Ukraine full of Russia-hating Ukrainian nationalists would see NATO troops arriving quickly and would join NATO in record time, right on Moscow's doorstep (by Russian standards).

The troops build-up is a build-up of bargaining chips for a deal and we should not recognise those bargaining chips in order to not reward such aggressive behaviour. Stupid decisions can overcome such reasoning, but the Russian kleptocrat-in-chief proved to be more rational in such cases than the average Western politician so far.

- - - - -












And if anyone comes with some remarks about German natural gas imports; go stuff yourself with that where the sun don't shine. The topic is more intricate than I've ever seen written in comments here or elsewhere. More intricate by multiple levels. It's like people thinking they make a smart statement when they say a car tastes like hard rubber.



P.S.: I was inaccurate if not misleading in the January link drop when I wrote that the massed Russian troops would not be enough to take on the entire Ukraine. They could smash the regular military, but they could not occupy the entire Ukraine. The Russians needed a ridiculous troops:population ratio to get Chechnya under control. They are just as incompetent at occupations as the Americans and the British are.

*: Not some supposedly petty spoken word as in the supposedly given NATO guarantee to not expand eastward that the usual idiots for Russian propaganda talk about so much. The Budapest Memorandum is an actual signed and ratified, in the manner of a binding treaty.

edit next day: red and crossed text are corrections made today, I'm sorry for the mistake. I'd like to add that France and China gave separate unilateral assurances to the Ukraine, but I did not look up their full texts.

In case someone is appalled by my negligence behind the mistake made: My excuses are "it was a rant and I mentioned that in the title", "I do not get paid for this", "I am just a blogger", "it was late at night", "I have no editor", "it's not terribly common", "at least I corrected it visibly" and "It doesn't really affect the overall picture; it was a rather empty promise that reflects badly on trustworthiness".

Now if someone was to dig up some actual obligations of Germany to assist the Ukraine in this crisis, THAT would seriously embarrass me.



(temporary) no blog post today

There's no blog post prepared for today. Don't worry, I'm fine.

Feel free to discuss something in the comments.



Mayor Vaugh at the helm

The biggest lesson from this plague is that the Western world -and much of the rest of the world- is getting governed by Mayor Larry Vaughn from "Jaws".

The behaviour patterns were identical in many countries and states; no decisiveness, pandering to popular opinion, fixation on superficialities, prioritisation of economic interests over citizens' lives, preferring any advice that suits the own preferences, not following public policy rules in private life ... and staying in power (or being replaced by people who turn out to be just the same).

Even worse; supposed competence centres showed that technocracy is no superior alternative, either. Even the dedicated anti-plague agencies of wealthy large countries were plagued by poor decisionmaking, if not showing appalling and unforgivable incompetence (such as the near-total statistics-analphabetic German RKI). They shone mostly when compared to the outright idiocy of dangerous idiots.

I spent more than a decade blasting away at the shortcomings of the establishment of government agencies and politicians in the field of military affairs and to some extent also foreign policy. The pandemic confirms that the systemic problem is more widespread, my suspicion is that all discontinuous government tasks are affected by the same systemic problems as in military policy. A military prepares for an event war that (hopefully) only happens once every couple decades or centuries, our supposed plague experts only got tested after a 100-year break (one could also say they failed during both influenza epidemics of the 60's and 70's). Natural disaster responses are also prone to display disappointing performances, albeit this is most commonly attributable to insufficient budgeting before the disaster.

Sadly, this seemingly systemic proneness to failure in uncommon, rare challenges may also be an important factor behind the apparent inability to execute foreign policy strategy and geostrategy. The politicians and top bureaucrats may even be so aware of the proneness to disappointing behaviour that they avoid accepting unusual challenges.

In other words; predictable incompetence at execution may be the reason for the timidity and inactivity regarding strategy.
It doesn't help that Europeans often elected conservatives into power, who block decisive action by definition and spent decades to built institutions (including the EU) that by design prove stabilising, perpetuating, resistant to changes of course.This is beneficial in regard to some issues and harmful in others.

How could we possibly expect solutions to well-known problems or even some coherent, sensible grand strategy from Mayor Vaughn?

P.S.: Sadly, the political press also failed spectacularly. One detail of this is that they criticised politicians for wrong things. I saw severe criticism about inefficiencies and mistakes made in hurried, frantic mas purchases. Those mistakes (not some related profiteering) were completely excusable IMO. The lack of comparably energetic action on other issues is what should have been criticised. Somehow the press finds it much more entertaining to criticise action than to criticise inaction. This may be related to the numbing success of actual conservatives.


Low silhouette vehicles


The most iconic German post-WW2 wheeled military vehicle is the "Unimog", a 2-ton (2.200 kg) extremely offroad-capable 4x4 vehicle. You can see the basic version here and see other versions listed under "LKW 2t tmil gl" here.

As far as I can tell the vehicle is extremely popular, but I never liked it, and the dislike was almost instant: The vehicle just seemed to be way too big (especially way too high) for its very modest payload. The wheels alone are huge, and the high performance suspension with huge ground clearance all-but guaranteed that the vehicle stands very tall.

The rough French equivalent ACMAT VLRA has also big wheels, but some versions feature a collapsible  cabin/folding windscreen for a much lower profile (which earlier Unimog generations also had).

ACMAT VLRA, 4x4 version for approx. 1.5 tons

- - - - -

I found long ago (and recently rediscovered) a book; "U.S. military wheeled vehicles" by Fred W. Crismon, 1983. It features an entire chapter on a program for low profile wheeled motor vehicles.

It turned out that the U.S. Army discovered around 1940 that the then-modern motor vehicles were difficult to conceal on a battlefield, and tried to get less tall vehicles. Folding windscreens were a must-have, but the seating of the driver was also often exotic. Some prototype vehicles were modifications of existing vehicles, and the whole program basically went nowhere because the Department of War/U.S.Army had already settled on wheeled motor vehicle standard types in 1941/1942, and this low profile vehicle program only began in 1942.

The logistics vehicles in this program were able to be configured for a very low silhouette, but most payload onboard would have prevented this.

The French tried and succeeded at developing some 8-wheeled (not 8x8) armoured vehicles with remarkably low silhouette going back to a late 1930's development and the Dutch improvised a remarkably compact 8x6 (not a typo) APC in the 1950's.

It appears that keeping the silhouette low was considered desirable, but hardly ever won out when design compromises needed to be made.

I'm not really in a position to complain; my favoured wheeled army vehicle is a 8x8 15 ton to 20 ton vehicle because this is the most efficient choice regarding driver personnel and convoy size / passthrough duration*.

- - - - -

We should nevertheless pay attention to the topic of concealability of motor vehicles. It makes sense to me to think about two very different types of units (or convoys):

There are on the one hand the vehicles that can normally be associated with an army combat brigade. This is where the convoy efficiency argument strikes in favour of fewer bigger payload vehicles.

And then there are scouting / observation / reconnaissance style vehicles. Not all of the latter need to be armoured. Four or five men teams for observation (Fernspäher/LRRP/LRS) could infiltrate and exfiltrate together with armoured recce (small) units, and 'peel off' when close to their mission area. Then they'd need to hide their vehicle and move by foot for some distance. Later on, they'd have to recover their vehicle (maybe first check some unattended sensors to see if somebody had discovered them), and join an exfiltrating armoured recce convoy. This could very well be done with a compact 4x4 car that fits into the garage of an abandoned civilian home, even with a civilian-looking 4x4 car (for hiding in plain sight). Alternatively, a very compact and very low silhouette design could be hidden among or even be disguised as something else without anyone suspecting a car.






*: This is definitely not the correct term, but I don't know the correct one. Motor vehicles move so quickly that in addition to the convoy length in metres it's also interesting to think about the time it takes the convoy to pass a point.



Link drop January 2022

edit 6th January: I updated a VERY old blog post with new and very much contradicting information. So I recommend to look at it briefly if you read among my2009 blog posts (I generally recommend to read old blog posts, for I think most aged well and many are timeless; they could have been written years if not decades earlier or later just as well).
Happy new year! 

I hardly wrote about it, but it looks as if the much-published fears of intensified war in the Ukraine won't be followed by action any time soon. The reported quantity of masses troops seemed inadequate for taking on the whole country anyway. The Ukrainians know how to fight in cold wintertime just as well as the Russians, so the avoidable troubles of wintertime made this season a rather implausible choice for aggression timing.
Some people have tried to understand the Russian perspective how oh-so threatening NATO is encroaching Russia. Well, Russia signed and ratified a guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty, and violates it. NATO and its members never wrote, signed or ratified any promise to Russia about limiting what countries could join it. The countries that join NATO do so as sovereign countries who have the right to do decide this way. Russia's great power ambitions are fundamentally about disrespecting the sovereignty of neighbouring countries, it fails to be an attractive alternative to NATO/EU and it proved to be untrustworthy.
Far right wingers in Europe and the U.S. have begun to like Russia because of the pretence of "strong man" in power, chauvinism, gayhating and just in general oppression of people whom right wingers don't like anyway. That Russian political culture is a culture of stagnation and exploitation; Russia's economy is crap because oligarchs ruin or suppress every effort of actually creating a good new business. The quality of life is crap, and would be even crappier if Russia hadn't so many natural resources to exploit. They can hardly export anything but raw materials and barely refined raw materials because their economy is so shit at everything else, particularly at everything high tech.

Russian exports 2017:
for comparison: German exports 2017:
Russia is a failing nation, and its politicians are corrupt, and not better than ours at all.
Russian ambitions of dominance over other countries is no more worthy of agreement than American and Israeli habitual occupation and bombing of other countries.