Open cities


The destruction in Ukraine is enormous, and a great harm to the nation. It would be nice if it could be avoided, right?

Well, there is a concept that spares cities almost entirely during wartime: "Open cities". Open cities don't get defended, and very few military troops are inside at any time.

Paris as an open city in 1940 and 1944, Rome in 1944. You can literally see that even today.

Imagine an invasion in which the invaders get fought against a lot in the countryside, but are safe once they reach a city. Safe even from counterfires (to their own artillery and mortar fires) with anything except precision-guided missiles.

Every captured city would soon turn into an encircled pocket which still receives food supplies and if possible also electricity (essential for the supply of drinking water), but no munitions and no fuels.

The invader might turn the cities into firebases, but many troops would be busy with civ-mil tasks (and yes, they would commit crimes). The likely mode of warfare would be to sally out on a raid once in a while, but the defenders would have the advantage of interior lines.

Violently liquidate one small such pocket as a warning to others and the other city pockets might  even surrender when the defender appears with massed forces at 'the gates'.

Numerous issues would be associated with such a strategy (including high rise buildings giving excellent vantage points for sensors, radios and ATGMs), but it might help to minimise damage to urban centres AND it would suit those armed forces that lack the quantity to actually fight in cities.

The approach could also be reversed; an invader could avoid the cites this way in an effort to be as little evil as possible.

Either way, the terrain would need to be suitable and one would somehow need to find a way to reach a favourable decision. The latter is easy for NATO; we can amass overwhelming power within months even if we are too few to accept an open battle in the first days.





It's the basics, idiot!

This Ukraine War is a powerful reminder about what military professionals have said for generations: It's about the basics. You need to get the basics right, beginning with individual soldier skills. Supply, communications, discipline, keeping morale up, large-enough and secure-enough munitions and spare parts stocks are some more basics.

You don't need great sophistication for most things in war, just at a few big levers.

  • reduce enemy air power influence with some persisting air defences
  • be able to defeat top-of-the-line tanks without extreme sacrifices
  • be able to maintain at least quasi-instant text message communications

The big budget NATO forces haven't limited themselves to basics, and indeed ALL NATO land forces have neglected some or most basics. We've had 30+ years of big budget Western armies pursuing "leap ahead" technology to "overmatch" hostiles rather than just being good at soldiering and being an army and winning becuase the hostiles aren't.

I very much doubt that this will change, albeit the spending frenzy will lead to more spares and munitions in stock.

Yet assume we were to shift to a "we're good at what we do, and use sophistication only where necessary" policy; that would make us unbeatable in land war, but what would it give us in terms of deterrence? Would the Russians -who played the gold-plating game to some extent as well- be properly deterred or would they be fooled by 2030 when they presumably have Armata armoured vehicles and Su-57 stealth fighters, along with new stocks of hypersonic missiles, certainly a bunch of proper battlefield drones and the tools to suppress enemy air defences (SEAD) for real? Might they not fall prey to the promise of their own wonder weapons?

The lessons of war are usually falling out of favour within about three years of fighting a war, largely forgotten within 20 years and reduced to book knowledge within 40 years. How could we deter with a "we're good at what we do, and use sophistication only where necessary" approach?

Could we do exercises to show off our basics from individual soldier camouflage to hauling huge quantities of fuel and artillery munitions on secondary roads and around craters on roads? Would being able to break camp from sleep within five minutes impress? Would marksmanship, casualty care drills, rapid tyre changes, rapid AFV engine changes? How could we keep potential aggressors from trusting their wonder weapons more than fearing the solid foundation of our land forces?




This is going to cause me trouble


Foreign policy in Western Europe and later the whole EU was coined by cooperation and building of support for joint policies after 1951. This stood in stark contrast to the events of the Second World War and much of the 1930's as well as the First World War. The ultimately unsuccessful efforts to come to peaceful cooperation from the late 1920's had been picked up and brought to success.

We entered an age in which -at least within Western Europe and within our societies- confrontation had a bad reputation while cooperation, consensus-seeking and talking to adversaries had a good reputation to the point of being considered the only acceptable behaviour.

This macro level behaviour reminds me of the stereotypical advice that women give regarding conflicts; talk, talk, talk. Never in my life have I heard a woman advise to confront a source of trouble. This seems borne from evolution to me; the women of the world would have spent most of the past 900,000 years or so with broken jaws and worse if they had immediately confronted aggressive men rather than tried to keep the conflict at the level of talking (and shouting). It sure seems to have been a successful evolutionary strategy, but I suspect this success was misleading.

It's usually not the talking that reduces or solves the problem with some aggressor; it's that one man or multiple men step in to defend the woman. So the evolutionarily successful strategy wasn't really to limit yourself to talking; it was for women to buy time till men address (often solve) their problem with an aggressive man. This appears to have been lost somehow, and the belief in the power of the spoken (or written) word took over within Western societies.* 

Today's women appear to suffer from the twin delusions that their hardcoded approach is universally superior and that they typically solve conflicts with aggressive parties themselves. I have never seen the latter happen in my life. All that I ever saw was that aggressive people shied away from further escalation when men stood up and faced them, deterring further aggressive moves.

Sadly, this twin delusion has infected the political 'class'. Germany has many politicians who are highly proficient in hiding failures and shortcomings until given intense scrutiny, and highly proficient in building networks of political support within their own party. Nowhere to see is a talent or suitable character for standing up and facing an aggressor to force him to cease with his aggressions.

Instead, they fall back to the only thing they know, the only thing the women ideology recommends; talk, talk, talk. Well, this and spending public money, especially when others chose to do more than talking.

Sorry for the blunt and unsophisticated messaging, but this repertoire is terribly incomplete. Cooperation, consensus, network-building all have their place, time and subject where they are the best path of action, but the challenge posed by aggressors isn't among them. Maybe they could eventually succeed, but this would be way too slow, and lead to too much suffering and damage. What's needed is a good-old-fashioned, stone age-hardcoded behaviour of a group of men standing up and facing the aggressor selflessly.

I do not believe that the public (media, politicians, pundits) are ready to accept this publicly. Their careers depend on not acknowledging it, for none of them are competent enough for their jobs and this could become completely obvious. Our society (societies) allowed a delusional ideology to take over, and it led us to a path of giving extraordinary power to systematically flawed personalities.



*: This clearly excludes their dealing with foreigners on distant continents.



Russian military incompetence

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine revealed some issues that confirm Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union's Red Army and the Tzarist army. These are long-lasting issues that will most likely persist and not be removed or reduced by much during a couple years of military reform. They are lasting features of the Russian way of war. Some examples:
(1) Some Russian soldiers were completely unaware of where they were and why they were supposed to fight. They believed they were going to participate in exercises. Some soldiers who had fought at a small town were unaware of whether Kyiv had fallen already or not, for they had received no news for weeks. This reminds me of stories about how the Soviet Red Army conscripts sent to Afghanistan often only found out inside Afghanistan where they were, what this war was about and so on.

(2) Many troops particularly of the ill-fated push through the Pripyet marshes NW of Kyiv had lived in horrible conditions in Belarus for weeks (during wintertime!) and were thoroughly demoralised by the time they were sent into Ukraine. Their primary thoughts were about a soft bed in a heated room and some decent hot food, not about military action.

(3) The traffic jam NW of Kyiv and actions elsewhere were reminiscent of a stupid form of 'command push'. It was common during WW2 for Red Army attacks to fail even with surprise, and then the commanders would receive orders to keep press forward. The would order attack wave after attack wave to the same place, from the same direction, without surprise. This was particularly prevalent in 1941/1942. This kind of stubborn top-down commanding was apparently also seen at the cities in the North and around Mykolaiv (though we'll likely have to wait years for confirmation by detailed reports).

(4) Agile and responsive artillery fires aren't a Russian thing. Fire plans developed over days against known positions were the maximum of Red Army artillery competence in 1943-1945, and even the Russian army of today doesn't seem to be capable of much more. They lacked the element of surprise when they started this war and apparently most of their pre-planned fires in the East did hit empty positions. This is the only plausible explanation for their inability to advance significantly in that region afterwards.
By comparison, Ukrainian artillery fires appear to be extremely munitions-austere (likely out of necessity) and thus well-aimed. The biggest I saw on video included about 20 shells.
The Russian military leans heavily on indirect fires. It's a mystery why they wouldn't get more proficient in indirect fires if they're so important to them.

(5) Total disregard for the lives of civilians, including shooting at hospitals (as in Syria already). (I won't pretend that the raping and prisoner abuse/executions are specifically Russian - they're specifically warfare.) 

(6) A mix of ancient (1960's technology) equipment with 1990's equipment (and really hardly anything more modern than that!). You can find much 1970's technology in the German army as well (especially armoured vehicles), but the share of ancient equipment in the Russian army appears to be higher, even among these active forces. This is a bit of a mystery, for the production figures of much newer equipment minus their exports and losses at the breakup of the Soviet Union still yields more than enough newer equipment. We saw T-62s in action in 2008 Georgia, and now very early T-72 models that equally belong into museums. This makes simply no sense, even if these were training tanks pressed into combat service as short-term replacement for losses. 

(7) Very poorly maintained, outright rusty equipment - even high value equipment such as air defence systems. This is reminiscent of the huge fleet of T-26 and BT-7 tanks in 1941 that was lost with little to show for. Great many T-26 and BT-7 broke down and were easily dismissed instead of offering a good fight.
(8) A tactical air force that is astonishingly ineffective. This is reminiscent of the almost unbelievably marginal impact of the Soviet air power in 1941-1942. Even in 1943 Soviet air power was much claims, little effect. It inflicted serious losses only when the Germans had failed to synchronise anti-air artillery cover with road marches. Then and now the culprit is fairly obvious; too few flying hours for training of the air crews.
(9) They're plain stupid and uneducated. I understand this sounds inappropriate to say, and there are no doubt some smart men in the Russian Army, but they are capable of displays of stupidity and lack of education otherwise not known in Europe. Who else would manage to get radiation sickness at Chernobyl weeks into a war in the area? Stupidity and lack of education are recurring themes in descriptions of the Russian army up to Colonel rank, and they sure provided much evidence to support such claims.
- - - - -

Several of these points can be traced to a lasting bug in the Russian army and its predecessors: It's lacking good non-commissioned officers. Their NCOs are rather enlisted personnel with some technical expertise. Many task of Western NCOs are left to junior officers in the Russian army. This is a problem because officers are not supposed to live with and close to the enlisted personnel. Officers are a bit detached from the grunts, which helps them make decisions that endanger their lives. Now if you have no NCO class of troops that takes proper care of the enlisted personnel, then you end up with ignorant, demoralised, undisciplined, malnourished, frostbitten enlisted troops. You also end up with the typical Russian and Red Army problem of bullying against new arrival enlisted personnel.
To sum it up; much went wrong at the individual to small unit level in the Russian army and its predecessors for well over a hundred years already.
Another issue are reckless orders given by senior officers, especially regarding sustainment and offensive action. There's much pretence of theoretical competence and scientific treatment of military theory, but the practical application ends up being brutish war after war.

The third big theme is corruption, but this cannot really be blamed for this debacle considering how corrupt Ukraine itself is (which likely contributed to the almost no-show of Ukrainian land power in 2014). The logistical problems of the first days were likely magnified by corruption in procurement (including ordinary things like buying poor quality tyres), but also by troops selling off diesel fuel to civilians in anticipation of doing exercises after which the sold fuel would not be missed. To launch an invasion with only partially filled fuel tanks would mess up any logistics plan.

The fourth big theme is the utter failure of the Russian arms industry to provide quality equipment. There has apparently been no progress in tank protection since 1987 despite the rise of diving and overflight top-attack munitions with shaped charges. Air power and air defences are failing against drones that a fighter from 1943 could intercept. The sensors used are quite crappy, too little night vision equipment is in use, the new tactical radio family is either failing technically or not available in sufficient quantity. Artillery fire control tech appears to be largely stuck in the 1980's. China won't be able to solve these issues for Russia, and these issues are very likely a consequence not only of corruption and 1990's brain drain, but also of an economic policy that doubled down on natural resources exploitation by oligarch-controlled megacorporations and provided horrible conditions for high tech or innovative businesses. Russia is largely limited to exports of raw materials and petrochemical products for good reasons.

The Russian army is crap, and it's not even large in comparison to NATO.  It's suffering from problems that cannot be solved by a couple years of intense efforts after an embarrassing war. Their economic and fiscal base is collapsing, and they already failed to make significant progress with big budgets in the past decade.
The predecessors of the Russian Army had a long history of poor military performance after the one-off talent of Suvorov, including underperforming even against backward Turks and catastrophically failing in the First World War after starting it with an incredible numerical superiority. The Red Army of 1942-1945 had some of its material quality and quantity issues solved by free imports (Lend-Lease), which enabled it to defeat German forces and their weak allies. The Germans had only about about 60% of German land power and most of the time a minority of German air power on the Eastern Front. Today's PR China could hardly provide assistance equivalent to American Lend-Lease. One reason is that it's not exactly a pool of highest military quality itself and another is the logistical situation; the Trans-Siberian Railway's capacity is still a narrow bottleneck in wartime.

That being said, I should mention that most armies in NATO are outright crap as well.* Some NATO members clearly lack the economic base to do much about that, while some large and wealthy ones mostly have a political and senior officer corps leadership problem. They've wasted too much attention on pointless small wars and other distant missions rather than on the noble task of deterrence & defence. This neglect of conventional warfare capability turned even the rather reputable Western armies into Potemkin' villages with too little technical readiness, too few (artillery) munitions in stock, incomplete equipment with night vision and force structures that make combined arms tactics impossible (such as some brigades without indirect fires capability and without significant battlefield air defence capability).

The difference is that our deficiencies might now be addressed (in a spectacularly inefficient, wasteful way), while there's little reason to believe that the Russians could address their issues effectively. They would need to stop being so Russian to do so.

*: Have a look at the Bulgarian land forces' equipment if you want to see a museum force.


The West was foolish

So as it turns out, the Russian armed forces are just marginally better equipped qualitatively than the Red Army in 1989. There are a few thermal sights, a few better radios, some better air defence missiles (that still hardly ever shoot down drones that are less than the equivalent of a WW2 fighter) and their primary self-propelled gun is a little better than the standard of 1989.
Seeing this, the Western defence sector of the past 30 years suddenly looks utterly idiotic. The phony war on errorists with its occupation wars and assassination wars was a stupid distraction, and everyone willing to open the eyes knew it. But now it seems as if practically all talk and efforts regarding modernisation of our armies of the past 30 years was as idiotic as an asylum inmate shouting at and fancily decorating a wall. We never needed or had much use for any "leap ahead", "revolutionary", super-networked, artificial intelligence, offensive cyber, hypervelocity missile, railgun, battlefield laser weapon, C-RAM hard kill tech at all.*

We could literally deter the conventional Russian military power with a fourth of NATO's current ground forces head count in Europe, mostly equipped at 1989 standards (upgraded with mid-90's anti-tank tech) if only we had also stocked enough munitions & spares and provided good training to this force.

Instead, we followed the promises of high tech like total idiots and wasted hundreds of billions of Euros in Germany alone (and 10+ trillions $ in the U.S.). There are even fools who brazenly claimed that we weren't spending enough when it was (even before the war) obvious that our budget allocation was the real issue, not the (actually huge) budget size.
Years ago I did warn (and I'm too lazy to look up when exactly) that we overemphasise the technological and material side because the industry sells it, while it cannot make as much business with simply giving the army enough good training. I also criticized an infatuation with prestigious big ticket programs (though mostly in the air & sea context).

The current political climate appears to be in favour of doubling down on the idiocy of this previous generation instead of seeing what the Ukraine War 2022 really is; the exposure of the conventional might of Russia as extremely 'disappointing' and hardly standing a chance to defeat even only a third of EU or European NATO.

It IS a return of conventional warfare (again, after 2008), though. This means we should fix some neglected areas.
  • We should get training quantity right,
  • we should get training realism right,
  • we should make training comprehensive (including all wartime tasks),
  • we should get the spare parts supply & stocks and thus technical readiness right, 
  • we should get our munition stocks right,
  • we should re-establish useful battlefield air defences of a new kind and
  • we certainly should kick out everyone who's not serious about the army's real mission.
What we don't need now is a Leopard 3, more Pumas, more Boxers and the like.

We can turn away from 95% solutions towards affordable 80% solutions that work. The only somewhat realistic conventional threat to us free Europeans right now is a very weak (compared to NATO), backward country that's looking forward to years of economic disaster. The two potential other threats are far away and not targeting us at all right now.
The cost reduction of such a paradigm change would not be a mere 15 per cent points. The drop from seeking 95% gold plated solutions to working affordable 80% solutions enables a cost reduction of 60...90%. You may have seen footage of Ukrainians destroying Russian tanks with Stugna-P missiles. Those actually cost less than a NLAW or Javelin missile (or what Germany is buying; Eurospike a.k.a. MELLS). The guidance principle is intrinsically cheaper than Javelin's, and those missiles still seem to blow up their MBT targets.

The only powerful "but" that I see here are
  • obsolescence of old equipment (inability to get spare parts produced)
  • Russians being occasionally delusional about how crappy their army is, and thus possibly not deterred without an impressive show 
The obsolescence issue doesn't mean we need to replace unsustainable kit with gold-plated kit, period.
The deterrence value should be achievable by letting the world see the performance borne out of robust kit, reliable kit, ready kit, much training & good training.
High tech fever isn't the only pathway to being impressive. For example, I wrote about a militia. Imagine we had in Central and Eastern Europe 500,000 militiamen at the budget expense of 30,000 full-time active duty troops, and those 500,000 militiamen had 5,000 ManPADS, 20,000 mortars and 200,000 MBT-busting (but cheap) anti-tank weapons. These quantities could be purchased with 5...10% of Germany's annual military budget and last for 20 years (the mortars for generations). We could have exercises that prove 400,000 militiamen actually show up for duty on a weekend every fourth year or so. That would require a tiny fraction of our current military budget in European NATO or EU and it would convince everyone who has the tiniest bit of an idea about occupations that Russia could not successfully wage war against us** without adding much quantity on its own. No high tech would be required for this.

To waste resources on ill-advised military spending is like robbing from the own nation; the arms industry is the only special interest benefiting from it (at least in the short term). We could have invested the wasted funds into mastering other challenges instead (keyword opportunity costs).
This war shows that we have spent foolishly because  spent for the wrong war and against a threat of largely imaginary quality. It's always a good time to turn smart about spending. Sadly, this war triggered primitive impulses that lead us down a path of wasting even more resources. We're turning crazy-stupid like the Americans did after 9/11.
 S O
Disclosure: I myself did overestimate the Russian armed forces as well. Most notably, I was sure that they had some unpublished ace in the sleeve regarding tank survivability, but they made apparently no progress whatsoever after 1987. I also did not anticipate that their tactical air force would be this inconsequential to hostile ground forces. I was quite a high tech fan by 1998, recovered a little from that and had returned to very demanding (including technically demanding) concepts by 2009/2011.
As a saving grace, I did in the past push back against the pretence that the thousands of Russian tanks in storage were relevant and I pointed out repeatedly that Russia's armed forces were outnumbered 2:1 by European NATO and the EU (then still with the UK). I also pointed out once that their logistical vehicle situation was troublesome (for them) and that there was little reason to believe that their corrupt government was any more efficient with military budgets than Western governments.
*: The only tech advances in army tech of the past 30 years that really, really mattered were introductions of new anti-MBT tech to defeat the Russian 1980's tank survivability advances (which we made 15+ years ago already), hard kill active defences for tanks (which we didn't introduce in quantity), widespread use of better night vision and especially thermal imagers and possibly also a greater proliferation of voice radios in the infantry.
**: I mean this militia in addition to substantial land and air forces, not as an all-alone defence. I'm making the case here that shiny high tech delusions have a cheaper deterrence value substitute.


An army corps for Germany - revised

I wrote about my opinion regarding an army (Heer) reform in Germany leading to a single army corps both in 2010 and 2015.

The Russian land forces have proven to be underwhelming and appear to not have any hidden aces in the sleeve, especially no publicly unknown countermeasures for tank defence. Their tanks' survivability did not improve in more than 30 years. The Russian army will likely not become much better during the 2020's, considering the economic hardships of Russia in the years ahead. The Russian army in its current state would be hard-pressed to defeat a small fraction of European NATO.
- - - - -

I'm thinking now of a vastly less ambitious doctrine, and thus vastly less sophisticated and less expensive land forces.

My proposal is now to employ the militia concept and use it as a gateway for recruits (militia training equalling basic training for the whole military). The militia would not be part of the army corps, though. The overall militia strength could grow to a little more than 100,000 by the end of the decade and its training courses would be run by government-owned non-profit companies offering non-government union wages to suitably qualified trainers (former NCOs / former SaZ 8).

Army corps table of organisation:
  • HQ company (yes, just a company)
  • 2 Panzerbrigade (tank brigade; rapid mounted combat counterattack formations, would be most of the time held in reserve during a war)
  • 4 Leichte Brigade ("light brigade")
  • 1 J├Ągerregiment 
  • 1 Lehrbrigade
  • 1 support brigade 

About the Leichte Brigade; this is a scaled-down ambition force. Multiple infantry battalions, one wheeled 155 mm SPG battalion, one tank battalion for infantry support with 2nd rate tanks (Leo2A5 without hard kill APS).
The Leichte Brigade would seek to fight in a not very mobile manner, trying to establish a sensor superiority with 20 km deep target detection & classification. It would seek to become oppressive with responsive and accurate indirect fires, and its infantry would seek to win the close fight where standoff sensors cannot detect opposing forces. Take this video as an inspiration.
Its tanks would play a minor role with occasional direct fire support and they would be able to ambush hostile tanks with delaying action tactics, thus deterring rapid mechanised attacks (which could overburden the indirect fire support). The brigade would need to be able to fight with much dispersion. It would be a defence-only force until the tanks arrive, and then become limited offence-capable with the tanks.
It would receive the icon of an infantry brigade in NATO HQs, but I don't want to call it like that because it' really a tried of sensors + artillery + infantry (with tanks being support to the infantry mostly).
The Leichte Brigade is back on the table in my opinion because the Ukraine War showed that Russian tanks are indeed much more vulnerable to infantry anti-tank hardware than is state of the art. A single Leichte Brigade would have massacred the equivalent of four Russian brigades Northwest of Kyiv due to its artillery strength.

A Panzerbrigade is a high effort formation with high hardware and training costs. Relatively few are needed. Two would have sufficed in the Ukraine war so far, particularly for a counterattack ("Schlagen aus der Nachhand") between Mykolaiv and Cherson. Such a formation is extremely budget-heavy when done right, so we should not afford more than necessary. They would be kept in reserve much of the time because of their unique and rather specialised counterattack capability. They would not be as good for controlling or defending terrain as a Leichte Brigade.
The Lehrbrigade would be  a very unstable experimental formation testing new concepts in two-year cycles. They might even get leased equipment for two years and would be responsible for demanding troop testing of equipment (not testing new night vision goggles, but a new AFV generation, for example), tactics and organisations[edited in later because I forgot this]. Its personnel strength could fluctuate from 1,500 to 3,000 and its basing should make varied terrains accessible for training and exercises in a sensible radius.

The J├Ągerregiment is what would be a ranger regiment abroad. One battalion using Wiesels (since we already have them), the other one being totally light infantry with soft vehicles only. This is mostly a competence centre for light infantry and for providing VDV/Spetznaz-simulating adversaries in exercises. These battalions might temporarily be attached to a Leichte Brigade in particularly infantry-demanding terrain.

The expectations for air defence are much-reduced considering the unexpected ineffectiveness of the Russian tactical air force. Still, it makes sense to procure about the same mix; RCWS with an eye on the drone threat, some air defence suitable against munitions and MALE drones (relatively cheap missiles) and a high end area air defence probably along the lines of CAMM and IRIS-T SLM (NOT its radar), as SAMP/T has grown old by now and likely has a much lesser seeker performance. I would not rely on AMRAAM-ER or ESSM Blk 2 any more after the experience of the U.S. almost completing a transition of Fascism. The U.S. could turn into a threat within the 2020's and is thus no more an acceptable supplier for air defences, combat aircraft, AEW or anti-ship strike munitions in my opinion.
I do now rate the survivability of helicopters higher than before - against the Russians only. Helicopters are worthless targets against a state of the art opponent, but against Russians they could be used in rear area purposes; mostly MEDEVAC and liaison flights.