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.





  1. Russian capability fluctuates. They always get either over- or underestimated. They are on a series of wars to re-erect the Russian empire. In one of these wars, they'll be well prepared to face NATO.
    I agree with you that it needs reserves in wartime. Just look how quickly Russian strength dropped, because they lack well trained reserves to replace losses. But there's hope for suitable adaptation if we overestimate Russian capabilities next time they go for Poland and the Baltics. If we underestimate Russia, complacency with the status quo will set in, because none is interested in a cost effective solution, if they deem the current one sufficient to handle Russia. Bureaucracies thrive on the size of their budget to signal their importance.
    But why make the reserves separate from the army and not part of it?

    1. The bureaucracy prefers technicized units with big ticket items (CH-47F, Puma, Boxer) over infantry and it cherishes peacetime structures at the expense of wartime strength.
      Last but not least, the militia would be unavailable for military adventures on other continents.

    2. So the army is willing to gamble with home defense in order to have some adventures abroad?
      As a nation, what do we get out of things such as the Mali mission?

    3. As a nation? Well - displaced German nationalism to EU nationalism is appeased by continued EU Empire building efforts - Mali sits astride key resource corridors from sub-saharan Africa to Europe which the EU élites (and thus also German élites) plan to develop as part of the "Great" European Recolonisation of Africa 3.0 which accelerated in 2011 with the neutralisation of Libya. The hopes are that renewed plunder of the continent will allow them to replace Russian raw materials and energy and save European (post)-capitalism. However, the European "adventure" in Ukraine (among many other factors) means this plan is as dead as the dodo - China is developing Africa in its interests and Russia has apparently decided to "terminate" European Empires in Africa for good.
      The German Michel gets from this "mission" and other ventures like it precisely the fist in the face that he deserves for backing such incompetent and aggressive élites.

    4. Oh look, the germanophobic Italian commie is back.
      Do you no that outside your bubble russian propaganda also plays the right side of the political spectrum?
      Divide and Conquer.
      They aren't some "liberators" fighting against "post-capitalism".
      They are just going after their own interests.
      And the suckers buy their propaganda.

    5. I assure you nobody in Germany cares about Mali's natural resources and nobody cares about its qualities as a transit country given that it's a landlocked wasteland with a bit of arable land along a river that sits between pretty much nothing.

      Germany got into the Mali bollocks because of primitive phony war on terror thinking. It doesn't get out because idiots are in charge.

    6. Just because the vast majority in Germany are too conformist to ask themselves why the Bundeswehr are really in Mali just as they were too conformist to ask themselves why Germany had to be "defended on the Hindukusch" most certainly does not mean that "nobody" in Germany has an interest in jointly with France controlling Mali - which happens to sit on a convenient land corridor from Nigeria and Niger to Europe. Traditionally, profitable colonial exploitation was sea-based, but pipeline technology and the immense importance and value of oil (and gas) may well change that.

    7. To Anonymous:

      1) I'm not Germanophobic. The fact of the matter is that Germany, Italy and France are the core of Western European ("romano-germanic") civilisation. England, Spain, all the other minors - are peripheral at best and at worst active enemies - perfidious Albion. This "closeness" also implies a certain rivalry - inevitable product of complicated historical relationship. Unfortunately, the Germans are leading the charge of Europeans off a high cliff and have been for some years, which I object to. So if my comments come across as anti-German that's because the Germans are essential partners in defending the prosperity and independence of Europe who'd rather instead do the exact opposite. To be fair, it's not like Italian leaders are much better. Nonetheless, not only do Baerbock and Lauterbach make di Maio and Speranza look competent - but there is a clear dynamic: Germany leads the stupidity, we follow.

    8. 2) Russian propaganda is politically inclusive precisely because the current government and state lack a firm ideological foundation. It's a sign of internal incoherence, not masterful "divide and conquer".
      As for liberators - that's precisely their stated mission in Ukraine - Lavrov even declared a few days ago that they'd get rid of the inhuman puppet government of that unhappy land.
      3) The war is clearly a RF - West proxy war and the West is undeniably a few decades into a transition from capitalism to post-capitalism (characterised by an absence of economic competition, returning to a system of distribution mediated by force) - Russia is lagging behind and also has an alternative to look to - Soviet anti-capitalism. Thus far it seems Russia is not condemned into blindly following the West down their path. While the war is not overtly about a clash of systems, it is about preserving or destroying (setting favourable conditions to attack and destroy) the Russian Federation, whose demise is crucial for the continued economic well-being of a West incapable, in its current form, of fair economic competition.

    9. Seriously, the Sahara is no land corridor. There isn't a single rail line or canal or river or pipeline across the Sahara in North-South direction. It's an obstacle. We would invest in a decent artificial port between Freetown and Abidjan if we wanted much trade with West Africa.
      The majority of Germans opposed our participation in the AFG war, it wasn't "too conformist".

      Your views on the Russo-Ukraine War are 100% Russian propaganda bollocks. You're gullible and wannabe-smart enough to be total conformist with foreign aggressor propaganda.
      That's even more embarrassing than Americans falling for Neocon warmongering lies.

    10. The Sahara desert is an obstacle but Mali has strategic value because it can be used to threaten most of West Africa as well as Nigeria and Algeria.

      "Your views on the Russo-Ukraine War are 100% Russian propaganda bollocks." Sadly, Russian propaganda uses a mix of 90% truth : 10% falsehood, Western propaganda the opposite.
      "You're gullible and wannabe-smart enough to be total conformist with foreign aggressor propaganda."
      I'm not on the side of post-coup Ukraine which invaded DNR and LPR repeatedly in 2014/5, was repulsed, was given favourable peace terms it then refused to implement and then commenced artillery preparations and general mobilisation in Feb of this year to try it's luck at Operation Storm 2.0 at the behest of Uncle Sam.
      "That's even more embarrassing than Americans falling for Neocon warmongering lies." At this point Germans and Frenchmen ought to be studying the meaning of the words "dishonour" not merely "embarrassment". Moscow started to openly name those responsible for failing to implement Minsk 2 - and Russia has a long memory - I'm personally hoping that Moscow will distinguish between dishonourable US stooges DE and FR and mere weak US vassals like Italy, but I have bad feeling this won't be true for much longer.

    11. "Russian propaganda uses a mix of 90% truth : 10% falsehood, Western propaganda the opposite. "

      Galimba, Galimba, you obviously suffer from a sever case of the Reality Detachment Syndrome (ADS).
      Do yourself and us a favour, get help!

    12. ROFL.
      A giant sandbox has strategic value and Ukraine invaded its own territory.

    13. To Ulenspiegel:
      Western propaganda largely repeats junta-Ukrainian propaganda, as such you're the one in need of help.
      Just bear in mind the first principle of junta-Ukraine: the famous wheel of "genotbiy" - that each reported victory inevitably turns into a defeat once the true details and full consequences become known.

    14. Did you derive this opinion from online accounts or did you ask actual Ukrainians from the conflict zone? They overwhelmingly agree with the Western narrative.
      You write like a paid troll.

    15. [I deleted two replies that were 100% delusional bollocks.]
      He's too delusional to understand any refuting, so I won't bother. Total Bizarroworld-ism

    16. Make that three, he should seek help to get out of Putin's Fantasyland.

    17. It's so sad that one can't change someone's mind in online discussions. It's all about accept my point instead of recognizing that someone else also has a good point.

    18. Exhibit N. 23 million of why at this point it is impossible to have dialogue between RF and US/EU - and why it came to this war - disagreements over facts and interpretations are met with censorship and ridicule - after all there is only One Truth. You claim I suffer from delusions and doublethink - yet I actually know (relatively well) both narratives and freely decided that one was a much better fit to the facts. You - like a disturbingly large fraction of EU citizens -
      (and despite both 30 years of excellent travel opportunities between Russia and the rest of Europe and the existence of the internet and autotranslate functions) are so enamoured! of the caricatures of your propagandists that you have no clue of the other sides' internal narrative(s), much less of the various internal realities, and thus have no basis for comparison. I used to think that this was a question of élite capture - EU élites by US business interests, intelligence agencies etc, but am starting to suspect that the truth is simply that both the EU élites AND a significant fraction of the people wanted so desperately to believe the patchy, paper-thin, utterly unconvincing narrative because that was the only way not to admit some unpleasant truths. It turns out that NATO-ism is a really an insidious new ideology, of which your blog sits on the moderate "frequently-US bashing" wing.

    19. Most people think they are well-informed and have flawless, logical reasoning.

      It's things like claims that a country invaded its own territory that give away the delusional ones.

    20. BTW, warmongers and helpers of aggressors can expect a lot more than ridicule and getting comments deleted at this blog.

      Such people are SCUM.

    21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. "So the army is willing to gamble with home defense in order to have some adventures abroad?"

    That does not make sense. The decision for "expeditionary" warfare is foremost a political one. A militia with clear legal framework would prevent such political decisions.
    Higher officers are only willing helpers of politicans, esp. when these politicains deliver good justification of expensive toys.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. In one of your earlier posts you suggested 3 months of militia training would be enough private soldiers, why the change to 6 months? Also, 6 months training as apposed to 3 months will be harder to accept ( more disruptive to regular life) for the general population.

    1. Three months is a common basic training duration, but it's no training for an infantryman, just general air force or army basic. So three months fits well if you want a reservists pool who can more quickly be trained into many specialised jobs.
      Six months is a duration for training young men to become infantrymen. They won't be experienced in all seasons, but will be useful in a modest infantry skill set.

      Six months is actually less a disruption than three months in a way because three months service means you have to wait six months till the next semester starts at university (40+% go to university). You better get paid six months for six months delay than get paid three months for six months delay.

  4. I'm reading: The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C. - Third Edition

    It has an interesting theory that all the war chariot based empires of antiquity fell to a military revolution, where infantry that accompagnied chariots learned to operate without them in greater numbers with devastating effects.
    The Ukraine situation has the potential to push things towards a similar infantry revolution. Infantry with tanks could be replaced by infantry without tanks and maybe a data link to artillery. Fighters and helicoter might also in part be replaced by artillery systems with data links to drones. So we have infantry with drones and artillery as a new system that might be a lot cheaper in bang for the buck.