Actual artillery battle


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

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

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


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

multiple rounds simultaneous impact for surprise effect lethality 

What is MRSI?

much use of DPICM (until the cluster munitions ban)

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

DPICM is the primary anti-tank artillery munition

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

shoot & scoot to survive counterfires

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

artillery shell purchases in the ten thousands

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

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

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

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

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

suppressive fires with HE shells support infantry and armour attacks

UKR: We have no munitions to spare for that.

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

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

smoke munitions provide concealment for troops movements on the battlefield

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

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

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

RU: What are fire support command control communications networks

Russia considers artillery to be the king of the battlefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



80/20 for defence


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

Key assumptions of that scenario were that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





The mirror Putin law


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

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

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

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





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


Germany is very safe these days. My normal check list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to the explanations:

#1, Russian Federation (with its appendix Belarus)

This threat is fairly simple.

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

#2, United States of America

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

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

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

#3, People's Republic of China

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

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

#4, India

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

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

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

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

#5, Israel

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



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

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



Reappraisal of U.S.Army brigades

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

Hardware: Short range AT

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

Hardware: Long-range AT

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

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

Structure: Light BCT

The text is still fine there.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



Air warfare: Payload and what it means

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

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

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

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

This view appears to be largely obsolete to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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