Road march speeds in WW2


I remembered some data from road march speeds during WW2 (and the 50's) and found something curious. First, let me tell you  about the data:

The historical daytime road march speeds* varied from event to event, but the rules of thumb were


4 kph ~ 30 km/day

marching on foot, horse-drawn carts and artillery (not taking into account resting times)


60 km/day

European-style horse cavalry (10 kph for slow canter and up to 20 kph for fast canter for a brief forced march)


18...20 kph

bicyclist troops


20+ kph / minimum 200 km/day (rarely done 150+ km)

This applies to both tracked and half-track motor vehicles. Crew and passengers were exhausted by vibrations and noise. Both troops and vehicles needed many maintenance stops.

This speed probably also applied to motor-towed artillery, as artillery ordnance had poor suspensions and was thus often speed-limited, such as up to 30 kph except in emergencies. Even today most towed artillery is limited to 60 kph.


40+ kph / minimum 300 km/day

wheeled motor vehicles (likely 50...60 kph on good paved roads)

Wheeled motor vehicles had a substantial road march speed advantage (likely more pronounced compared to tracked vehicles than just 3:2*). Yet there was no substantial use of all-wheeled motorized formations as quick reaction reserves. They weren't even undisputedly dominant among armoured reconnaissance in Europe.

The disadvantage of a-wheeled armoured fighting vehicles goes beyond just inferior soft soil mobility compared to tracked and most half-tracked vehicles. The first tanks became shell-proofed instead of just bulletproofed by 1937, a move that wheeled armoured vehicles never matched. They have a too large armoured area compared to the more compact same-weight tracked designs (same problem as with half-tracks unless you reduce the wheeled front to an unprotected skeletonised structure). Armouring wheeled vehicles up to 60+ mm steel would make their ground pressure unacceptable on soft soil (true to this day, despite much better tires and CTIS).

So the wheeled armoured vehicles were not able to prevail in the gargantuan military experiment of the Second World War, despite attempts and already-understood hard soil/road mobility advantages. Even the ability of 4x4 motor vehicles to tow anti-tank guns and the ability to move even divisional field artillery portée (carried for march, set up like towed guns for firing) or as self-propelled guns on wheeled motor vehicles did not lead to such quick formations.

This begs the question why exactly they became such a fashion in 1999...2003 and later (post-2003 rather 4x4 and 6x6 MRAPs than 8x8 APCs). The Kosovo and Pristina deployment embarrassments and armies panicking about "relevance" cannot be the full explanation. Buying all those vehicles was really expensive, so I doubt the advantage in operating costs over tracked vehicles was a strong real argument, either.

The introduction of central tyre inflation systems, wider tyres and improved self-locking differentials did reduce the disadvantage of wheeled vehicles on soft soils, but their rise in weight more than countered this.)




*: I mostly remembered these, but checked Middeldorf/Handbuch der Taktik just to be safe. The minimum 200 km and minimum 300 km figures stem from it, I think both downplay the wheeled motor vehicle mobility of the time. A ratio of 200:450 seems much more plausible during that period. The cruise speed was double and the need for maintenance breaks was lesser with wheeled vehicles. Both tracked vehicles at 200 km an wheeled vehicles at 400+ km would have required one refuelling break, but refuelling was possible by decentralised use of jerry cans and fuel drums.



SEAD, Russian style


I don't know much about how the Soviets intended to attack Western air defence radars. I know they had a couple radar jamming helicopters that were highly effective against IHAWK and they had a MiG-25 version that would fly at very high altitude at very high speed and launch some big anti-radar missile before running away.

The French had a less spectacular approach. They used their own anti-radar missiles for use by ordinary Mirages and Jaguars and had Elint suite to support their employment. They had no dedicated anti-air defences aircraft.

The Americans developed their sophisticated and expensive SEAD/DEAD (suppression enemy air defences / destruction ...) over North Vietnam. It included dedicated wings with specialised antenna-laden two-seat aircraft and two different anti-radar missiles (one of which was terribly expensive and the other had a variety of seekers against different radars). Standoff Elint and jammer aircraft supported all this. The dedicated anti-radar aircraft would find and engage radars, but the actual destruction would often be left to accompanying fighter-bombers that went close in and bombed the air defences similar to how American fighters of WW2 strafed and bombed Japanese air defences to reduce the threat tot he following bombers. This American approach was developed further and they now have a versatile anti-radar missile, satellites help with finding radars and they mess with the radio communications of an integrated air defence. The American approach excelled over Iraq in 1991, but it failed to destroy most of the old Yugoslavian air defences in 1999.

The Israelis used quantity low level strikes to roll up the Egyptian air defences in 1973 and later introduced ground-launched anti-radar drones and ground-launched anti-radar missiles to their DEAD mix.

All this is public knowledge. So what do the Russians do over Ukraine?

  • They sometimes targeted air defence high value targets with a precisions trike by ballistic PGM  Iskander.
  • They provoke air defences with cruise missiles and drones. 
  • They sometimes use remotely piloted vehicles (Lancet drones) to attack air defence high value targets close to the front
  • Some of their fighter patrols and strike fighters carry a (rather big) anti-radar missile, ready to shoot at targets of opportunity and presumably hoping that this capability also protects the aircraft itself.
  • They fail to overcome Ukraine's Soviet-era air defence systems even though they know them to 100% detail and had 30+ years time to train against them.
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence radars
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence communications
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective use of satellites (presumably because the Ukrainians change positions briefly after certain Russian reconnaissance satellites passed them)

Even the German air force might be more effective than that in DEAD (using its few Tornado ECR, a couple radar satellites, commercial photo/IR satellites, GUMLRS PGMs, Taurus and a small stock of old HARM missiles)!

I could draw up a fantasy force with an extremely resilient yet still affordable air defence. It would be necessary to deny the Americans effective use of bomb runs, even against their strike package tactics. Yet it's entirely unnecessary against the Russian armed forces, which are so crappy that they fall well short of meeting expectations based on a 1991 air campaign that lasted a few weeks. They had one and a half years. 

We need not look further than the 40 years old Buk-M1 system if we want to see what an effective counter to Russian combat aviation looks like. You'd at most need some gun-based system to keep them from being effective at terrain-following flight (less than 200 ft altitude).

Meanwhile, the Western military-industrial complexes focus on gold-plated cutting edge air defences. This makes sense to some degree (you need lock on after launch missiles to engage targets at very low altitudes and modern datalinks and processors sure make sense), but it's also very expensive. I'm guilty of this as well, but in my defence; at least I saw the need for some cheap missiles to defeat munitions (cruise missiles, smart glide bombs) in the mix.








The direct/indirect fires armour battalion - tactics


I realised that I didn't describe the tactics for the armour battalion for the exploitation brigade properly.

That battalion has four companies of tanks that are very good at shooting with high explosive rounds in indirect fire (up to 42° maximum elevation, with sufficient accuracy out to 15 km).

The idea is this:

The companies tend to manoeuvre as such (platoons maybe spread over 3x2 km). A pair of companies is close at all times, so there are two pairs manoeuvring around.

Now one company gets into contact with dangerous hostiles. The nearby other company of the pair moves into flanking position. They might also act as a leapfrogging couple in a delaying mission or during advance.

The other pair can do the very same, and whenever a pair is ion contact the other pair (about 4x3=12 tanks per company) would be available and be at a good distance for giving indirect fire support with good effect (this would be difficult at short distances in many terrain forms).

This is part of the reason why it makes sense to have four tank companies in that battalion, not three. With three you'd have either two companies giving such indirect fire support or one indirect and one direct fires (line of sight) support. That's A LOT less and would not suffice, as the brigade was designed to not require a separate artillery battalion (there are a few mortars in the concept, though).





Exotic ancient weapons: (X) The sasumata


I did consider to continue the series with the sasumata or the (not terribly exotic or ancient) boar sword, but did put this off for a long time because the sasumata seemed too impractical, too weird to me. I saw a lot of weird weapons from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, but the sasumata seemed too weird.

Yet I saw it's actually still in use. That blew my mind. It's one of those things that are truly alien in some other part of the world.






It's even worse; this to me totally alien concept of a weapon/police tool was actually also a thing in Europe: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_catcher

It would (in a non-thorny version) probably be useful in the UK, where many suspects are armed with a knife.







Coaxial machineguns are machineguns that point the same direction as a tank's (or IFV's) main gun. This makes aiming simple and the vehicle needs no additional means for training and elevation of the machinegun.

Coaxial machineguns use the mass of the turret for cooling and can be reloaded from under armour. Their biggest downside is that most coaxial machineguns allow burnt propellant gases to pollute the air within the turret, but that's an even bigger issue with the main gun, so ventilation is a must in crewed turrets. Coaxial machineguns have been common since the 1930's.

A special (and rare) kind of coaxial machineguns are retrofitted heavy calibre machineguns that are mounted outside of the turret.

You've very likely read about the threat of remotely-controlled flying drones to tanks. They're radio command-controlled and susceptible to jamming, but few tanks have such jammers. Netting is used to counter such drones, but purpose-built fuses would easily counter any such net.*


The answer to such drones is mostly jamming, though you may also shoot them down or burn them with lasers. Jamming can be done with quite simple means; you merely need power supply, a radio transmitter for the correct radio frequency band and a (directional) antenna that fits said band as well.

The whole package can be compact enough to be a one-man 'weapon'.


It's obvious that Western MBTs and IFVs are not prepared to deal with such a threat, and they are VERY vulnerable to it. We could equip them with jammers with omnidirectional antennas, but the permanent emissions by such antennas would be very easily triangulated and inform the enemy about tank locations and movements. We could switch such jammers on only when needed, but this requires the knowledge when they are needed; the detection of the drone.

You may use a weaker (or at same output power more effective) jammer with a directional antenna when you know where the drone threat is. So there's a case for directional drone jammers to be added to armoured fighting vehicles.

We already have quite a garden of antennae, cupolas, sensors and guns on top of tank turrets, though. A coaxial installation of a drone jammer antenna may thus be the way to go IF one decides against an omnidirectional antenna jammer. It may also make sense to have omnidirectional self-protection jammers and one tank or infantry fighting vehicle per platoon equipped with a longer-ranged directional jammer. The longer ranged one would be against observation drones, while the self-protection jammers would only affect the much more close attack drones.

I didn't write much about such jammers in the past because I consider remotely-piloted vehicles as a transitory thing. The really big deal will be drones with a degree of autonomy that allows them to do their job without an intact two-way datalink with a human operator.

My preference remains the use of mass-produced standardised remotely-controlled weapon stations (RCWS) on almost all battlefield vehicles (80+ % of the vehicles of a mechanised infantry brigade, for example). I hope we can make do without onboard search radars.



*: Drones with simple impact fuse can be countered, but a fuse can be built with an acceleration-measurement chip that sense the sudden deceleration when the drone gets caught by the net or cage and initiates the shaped charge explosion. The result would be a shaped charge attack with near-optimum standoff distance; even worse than a textbook impact fused shaped charge attack.


"Sanctions don't work!" (That's bollocks!)


Certain people on the intertubes are claiming that sanctions on Russia don't work, that sanctions circumventing renders them moot. It appears to be fashionable to cite trade statistics with Central Asian countries to provide supposed evidence for this assertion.

I'm not going to publicly guess why these people do so, or what their sources of income are. Instead, the economist in me found the topic a bit interesting from an analytical point of view:


Suppose you want to buy a used car. You spend time looking at offers on the internet, you drive to car sellers, discuss with friends, finally you travel to a specific seller and actually buy a used car from him for 10,000 currency units.

What was the cost of this purchase? I suppose the average economics layman will say it was 10,000 currency units. The average economist should be ashamed if he/she/it gave such a reply. Economists know about the concept of transaction costs. All those other activities around the used car purchase deal caused transaction costs; currency units and time were spent on that deal beyond the purchase price.

Now let's look at a hypothetical case of a 250,000 CU machine being purchased from a Western company by a Russian company through a middleman in some Stan-country. That purchase has a long rat's tail of additional transaction costs; middlemen, briberies, additional transport costs, a greater time delay, additional risks.

So we know for sure that circumventing sanctions like that imposes extra economic burdens on Russia(ns).

Furthermore, economists know a concept called price elasticity of demand. The usual case is that less goods will be purchased if the price increases. The opposite is so super rare that these freak cases have their own name (Giffen goods).

Imagine a 10 € spare part for a 250,000 € machine. Its price could triple and it would be purchased just as often. Imagine the machine's price increased from 250,000 € to 750,000 € and the quantity sold will plummet.

So what's the effect of additional transaction costs on products that Russia(ns) want to import from the West? The quantity will be reduced by this change, as many of the import goods have a price elasticity of demand that means less purchases at higher costs of purchase. Moreover, Russia(ns) not only get less, but they pay more for it per copy.

This was a "ceteris paribus" analysis. We considered how the outcome changes if one input variable is changed. The overall outcome may be influenced by a gazillion input variables and others may override this one input variable's influence, of course. Trade statistics of poor countries have a lot of statistical noise. There may be a mighty influence for less trade and the end result of all input variables may still be an increase of trade for a while.

A certain input variable has recently been very powerful, though; inflation. The "Sanctions don't work!" crowd doesn't attempt to convince people of their opinion by using trade statistics that were  corrected for inflation, currency exchange rate issues or even things such as population and economic growth. A serious economics scholar would be expected to do so if he/she/it proposed a paper on the subject for peer reviewed publication. No, that highly opinionated crowd uses relatively short run and raw trade statistics (nothing like 'since 1991', no 'real', no 'per capita', no '%GDP').

In short; they're not in the information dissemination business. They're in the propaganda business.


Long story short; sanctions don't work as absolutely as desired, but they hurt. Adjustments can be made to the sanctions regime, and it can become ever more restricting, an allegorical anaconda strangling an aggressor state. Russia's quality of life won't plummet much, though. The cases of Cuba and Iran show that a country with decent natural resources luck can maintain regime survival and a low-but-not-starving consumption level for decades in face of severe sanctions.



P.S.: More could be written about this. I didn't touch on the subject of opportunity costs this time, for example. And the whole 'thinking' of the "Sanctions don't work!" crowd is somewhat reminiscent of the bollocks spreaders who claim that minimum wage increases get significantly if not fully neutralised by what inflation they (supposedly) cause.



Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part IV: Applications and consequencs of the new definition


Maneuver/manoeuvre is movement to exploit superior readiness.

  1. This definition is not limited to the age of firearms.
  2. It's giving manoeuvre a purpose, which helps guiding the mind to what's important.
  3. Manoeuvre does by this  definition not include almost all retrograde movements (withdrawal, delay, retreat), regardless of whether fighting goes on or not.
  4. As per the additional remarks in the last post, the movement may create the readiness advantage. Encirclement gives readiness advantage by cutting the enemy's supply lines (+ morale effects). A flank attack may generate surprise and may overstretch the defences. 
  5. The superior readiness may also exist prior to the manoeuvre, and the movement means immediate exploitation of superior readiness.
  6. Classic manoeuvre such as the oblique order attack at Leuthen or Washington's sneak night attack across the Delaware river would not qualify as manoeuvre under some definitions. They do qualify as manoeuvre under my definition.
  7. The definition is applicable at all levels from individual soldier to an entire corps moving as part of a theatre commander's plan.
  8. The definition includes a one-size-fits-all definition of relative fitness for the fight ("readiness"), which directs attention to creating an advantage in this.
  9. "to exploit" implies that manoeuvre is a voluntary leadership decision. Some other definitions pretend that it's also maneuver (manoeuvre) when a driver is running away from enemy infantry and occasionally firing at burst at their general direction.
  10. This definition does not render the "attritionist" vs. "maneuver warfare" discussion moot. Discussions are fine to attract people to military theory and to educate them. A discussion such as the aforementioned one may even make sense when the conclusion should have been obvious 40 years ago.
  11. The definition makes it almost trivially easy to recognise that manoeuvre will never be entirely obsolete or out of fashion. It made sense even in 1915, when trench raids with limited objectives were conducted with planning and surprise advantage with the limited objective of snatching some POWs for interrogation.
  12. It's also almost trivially easy to recognise  that manoeuvre cannot be the correct tactical answer at all times. You do not always have (or can create) superior readiness that could be exploited by movement.
  13. The definition does not show that manoeuvre is typically leading to a quicker conclusion of a battle than attrition by firepower without movement. A definition doesn't need to include the information about this fact, though.
  14. Regrettably, the definition required additional remarks to assist in the correct (as per the author) interpretation. "The movement can create or improve the superior readiness, for example by encirclement, by shock or by the morale effect of arriving reinforcements. The exploitation can happen in the near future, enabled by the movement." To avoid this would have complicated the definition too much IMO.
  15. Another downside is that it requires an understanding of the term "readiness" as defined by me.
  16. The definition appreciates the value of "shaping the battlefield", as it's an activity to create superior readiness.
  17. Definitions that tie movement to firepower emphasise firepower/lethality more, and thus lead thoughts astray. My definition emphasised movement and readiness. The emphasis on movement  (regardless of firepower) helps with recognizing the importance of rapidity for exploiting or creating opportunities. An ordinary definition would rather lead to thoughts about how much suppressive fires are needed.
  18. The Boyd apostles will likely not find this definition to be incompatible to their faith, but they'd likely want to add their 'quicker cycling' fixation to it. They might add (at the end of the definition) "by running the OODA loop quicker" or something similar.
  19. The definition can be applied to naval, air and space just as to land warfare. Americans may (as they're much more militaristic than Europeans) also apply it to business, as they did before with Sun Tzu and some other military theory.



This definition will not be used by armies in their field manuals. It's meant to advance & provoke military theory discussions, not as copy&paste content for a field manual revision.

 S O


Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part III: Definition of Maneuver / Manoeuvre


A definition serves the purpose to enable clear communication about an abstract thing or concept. A good definition also makes thought about it easier and gives it clarity.

I offer to you a re-definition of maneuver / manoeuvre for these purposes.

First, though, let's look at the definition of "maneuver" by the biggest Western military:

Maneuver is movement in conjunction with fires (ADP 3-90).
The purpose of maneuver is to gain and exploit positions of relative advantage to accomplish the mission.


It's also one of the most crappy definitions of "maneuver" I've ever seen if not the worst ever. It supposes that there was no maneuver before the invention of firearms. To sneak into the rear of a n enemy position is not "maneuver" according to the U.S. Army. That's ridiculous.

You may also note that the maneuver vs. attrition debate was 'solved' by the official American (Army) definition of maneuver in a most lazy way; maneuver was defined as moving in battle while someone non-hostile shoots. This didn't answer the debate that started in the early 80's; it sabotaged it. Americans cannot discuss maneuver vs. attrition if they stick to their official definition.

My encounters with such crappy professional insider works are the reason why I dare to voice dissent instead of being in awe of the established paradigms.

My definition for manoeuvre/maneuver:

Maneuver/manoeuvre is movement to exploit superior readiness.

Important remarks for interpretation:

  1. The movement can create or improve the superior readiness, for example by encirclement, by shock or by the morale effect of arriving reinforcements.
  2. The exploitation can happen in the near future, enabled by the movement. 

The next part of the series will look at consequences and benefits of this definition.



Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part II: Readiness


Back in September 1939 a section of German infantrymen entered a Polish barn and went to sleep in the straw. One man woke up the next morning from a separate and very high sleeping position, and what we saw was terrible: All his comrades of the section had their throats slit over night.

It doesn't even matter whether this anecdote from a book is true or not; it reminds us convincingly that even a granny with a kitchen knife (or a brick) is a match for a trained and armed infantry section if only the latter is not ready for a fight. They were definitely not ready for encountering even a single hostile while they slept.

This serves to illustrate the importance of readiness for a (particular) fight as a single variable descriptor of the odds of combat. Combat troops vs. support troops, first world vs. third world, gucci spec ops gear vs. self-made clubs - the readiness for a (particular fight) can be considered as a universal single variable descriptor. Training, equipment, health, morale, position, formation, terrain, time of day, weather and supplies all affect readiness, but there are many more input factors.

My definition for readiness for combat:

Readiness (for combat) is the fitness to succeed in a fight at this time and place.

The fight may be ongoing, commence right now or be started very soon (before readiness can be improved by much).

To have such a single variable description for the ex ante odds of prevailing in combat is hugely useful for the understanding of maneuver / maoneuvre in my opinion.

I understand that this definition of "readiness" is not practical for everyday use in armed forces training. It's relational; armed forces would want a metric that a unit can achieve by itself, and would include things like 'is qualified on equipment', has completed unit-level training exercise', 'has 80+% deployable and present personnel'. I'd rather call that "state of training" and "deployability", and the existence of such terms means that a definition of readiness doesn't need to answer non-battlefield needs.

The next part of the series will introduce a definition for maneuver / manoeuvre that uses "readiness".





Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part I: Maneuver/manoeuvre, published military theory debates


"Maneuver warfare" or "Third Generation Warfare", as it was termed by a group of American theorists, is widely considered to be an alternative approach for winning battles and campaigns to the attritionist approach.

The attritionist approach is very much about finding targets, shooting at them and eliminating them from the balance of forces in the fight or campaign. It works. The issues with it are that it's often rather slow and you need to really good at it, for else you may suffer unacceptable losses by attrition yourself.

Maneuver is different. Let's look at a simplistic platoon-level tactical problem; an enemy section of infantry is in a free-standing farmhouse, and a platoon has to pass that area, so this threat needs to be eliminated.

The attritionist ideal is to call in fires that destroy the infantry section in the building, likely destroying the building in the process. A guided bomb might be dropped on it from an aircraft, for example. "Artillery destroys, infantry occupies." is an example for this approach/attitude.

A maneuvrist ideal is to feign an attack from one direction, then assault the building with a section from another section with the advantage of suppressive fires by small arms. The assault team takes the enemy by surprise and wins the fight inside, ideally more by taking prisoners than by killing. The building merely has a couple bullet holes and interior damaged by hand grenades.

A campaign-level example for attrition could be the decision to shell and bomb the hostile army until it's bled white or its morale crumbles (this happened to 1917 Russia, 1918 Germany, 1945 Germany, 1973 U.S.).

A campaign-level maneuvrist approach would be to break through the front to seek encirclement(s) (and surrender) of so much hostile army power that the hostile leadership loses hope and surrenders.

- - - - -

There have been discussions about which approach is more promising for generations. Likewise, there have been discussions about whether this or that approach is obsolete, usually based on recent events. The current Russo-Ukrainian War may serve as an occasion to claim that maneuver is dead. The focus on artillery shell deliveries and the plethora of war porn gore videos of killing and destruction fits to this very well.

I will not recount all those previous debates here (that would require a book, not a few blog posts); instead, I will introduce a new definition of maneuver/manoeuvre. I'm usually no friend of modifying definitions, but at times it's advisable to give more clarity of thought on the topic and to make the topic easier to understand. I'm convinced that my definition does indeed help a lot.

First, I need to introduce another definition in the next post, though; it's about a term that is part of my maneuver/manoeuvre definition.

(The other parts will follow sooner than weekly.)

part II:


part III:


part IV:




"What happened to the near ambush?"


I remember an article headline from one of the U.S. Army journals (90's); IIRC it was "What happened to the close ambush?". I don't remember the  article content, but I remember the headline, for it's an example for how tactics sometimes fluctuate in their popularity.

A near ambush is an ambush in which the ambushers allow the enemy to get quite close, maybe 60 m, before they start killing. The opposite is the now fashionable desire to shoot any all detected and identified enemies, even at ranges not traditionally considered infantry combat ranges.

My opinion is something in between; I want infantry sections to be very effective against infantry out to 200 m, maybe 300 m (with support weapons shooting farther, of course). That may sound short distance nowadays, but that's because people have lost the understanding how far away 200 or 300 m actually are. I can look out of my living room window and see 50+ positions at which I'd have great difficulty to timely detect a camouflaged rifleman with Mk 1 Eyeball sensors. That's all within a 160° cone of only 20...100 m length! Open fields aren't necessarily better; some fields were harvested, but the stems are still there and both the sunflower and the corn fields could easily conceal entire cars from view at a mere 20 m distance.

To shoot at long distance serves to slow down any hostile advance and channels it into microterrain that offers concealment, which in turn offers defenders the opportunity to hit moving hostiles with indirect fires aimed at such (in some areas rare) terrain features. The downside of shooting at long distances is that you give away your presence, possibly even your exact location.

The idea of the near ambush is rather lethality; infantry firepower is devastating at such a distance.

The book "War Games" by Leo Murray ( a book about combat psychology) offers an interesting and presumably important psychological detail: Assaults often collapse at a certain distance; the distance where the attackers are at a point of no return. Either they press on with the attack or they withdraw now. To advance and not press on to the enemy's position would be suicide. Leo Murray offers 60 m at a possible such point of no return distance. That happens to be what I remember as a typical near ambush distance (though no doubt different armies in different decades had varying opinions about this).

It might be that the near ambush is a very risky tactic simply because it leaves the hostiles no choice to run; and we WANT the hostiles to run. We ALWAYS want them to run. Hostiles running away from us is GOOD (as long as they're no steppe horse archers). We never want them to fight, certainly not within hand grenade throwing range (~30 m) to us.

This reminds me of how the usual talk about infantry combat ranges is too devoid of tactics and (certain) combat psychology considerations. Combat psychology would favour long ranges, tactics would favour rather short ranges. I suppose that people who are outspoken in their preference for long ranges ('We want to return fire to the Taleban's harassing PKM fires from the distant ridgeline!') just give in to their own combat psychology. Moreover, the effect of equipment weight (and the effect of range requirements on equipment weight) seems to be underappreciated. The videos from Ukraine clearly don't show infantry as overburdened in battle as the imagery from Afghanistan.













"Russian fortifications present an old problem for Ukraine"



It's not a bad article, but I disagree because it omits three important things;

  • the failure of the Iraqi field fortifications in 1991
  • that NATO would not have given Russia the time to create a layered 1,000 km uninterrupted field fortification system
  • that Ukrainian forces are very different from what NATO would field, particularly in regard to air power

The lesson may rather be that Ukrainians cannot overcome layered Russian field fortifications (time will tell), that would have political consequences, for the conflict would then be frozen along the approx. frontline of today.

I looked at many overhead photos of Russian field fortifications. Some of them may have been sloppy decoy positions, but I didn't see a single field fortification with a good layout. They looked mostly frontally-oriented, the trenches didn't have enough turns, there were no parapets, no overhead concealment, no camouflage and I saw but once a fighting position with overhead cover. Most overhead cover seemed to consist of mere sleeping holes dug into the side of trenches. I didn't see proper 360° defence layouts and I didn't see proper interlocking fires.


The obstacles are anti-tank trenches (easily overcome with at most two minutes delay using WWI-style fascine bundles or post WW2-style assault bridgelayers), some farcical dragon's teeth that didn't even stop the SUV-mobile incursions at Belgorod (and can easily be blown away by tank gun, autocannon, heavy machineguns and hand-emplaced demolition charges a well as pushed away with AFV dozer blades) and finally anti-tank mines.

The anti-tank mines are WW2-style pressure-activated models and a presumably tiny quantity of very modern jumping mines (though certainly not enough to reliably prevent mineclearing by flail-type mineclearing tanks).

I do respect this seemingly gap-less anti-tank mine belt (that also appear to have multiple layers) as an obstacle, but the other man-made Russian obstacles are crap. Germany was never good at clearing minefields, and our only mineclearing AFVs couldn't even resist 1960's anti-tank guided missiles for lack of ERA (the Ukrainians would fix that real quick with Kontakt-1 if we were to donate the Keiler AFVs).

Minefields (and mine belts) didn't receive terribly much attention in the past couple decades, and in my opinion what little progress was made was about the needs of NGOs who demine areas post-War. I am not aware of progress in forcing a path through a defended minefield in 1992-2021. Recently it became apparent that at least some AT mines could be found with overhead imagery (visual and infrared spectra), which raises the possibility that the key to pierce AT mine belts may be a timely detection and thorough reconnaissance. I want to be explicit here; I'm not talking about dismounted sappers crawling forward. This would only work in wet high grass/bush areas. It would be suicidal in face of thermal sight-equipped snipers and machinegunners everywhere else.

Moreover, the Western modern system strives to overcome resistance and obstacles with combined arms efforts and then to exploit successes by moving quickly with so much protection and firepower that the encountered further resistance would not stand a chance, likely not even offer much of a fight. The culminating point of this might be logistical (after 2-4 days depending on whether supply convoys arrive), but it might also be after four days of manoeuvre due to sleep deprivation.

Betz appears to suggest that we would fail at the breakthrough (overcoming resistance initially), which simply doesn't seem plausible to me. Mines are messy, but can be overcome even without specialised gear if you accept some losses (which is a requirement for being able to fight in a war). We would not wait till there's a triple layer 1,000 km AT mine belt anyway. We could focus air power within hours at any 10 km breakthrough sector along a 1,000 km frontline. Imagine the effect of a thousand quite precise 500 lbs bombs on a 10,000 km wide sector. NATO could deliver this this amount of precise bombs several times on a single breakthrough day. Would the Russian army really be able to counter-concentrate its reserves at breakthrough areas in time? Would the Russian army have the morale to offer a good fight at all? They had millions of artillery munitions in stock, but they would have needed months to expend that on us, whereas we could have finished their unimpressive less than 300,000 army troops within weeks, I suppose.

Western force structures, force management and procurement sucks, but I don't see it being the paper to Russia's scissors (layered field fortification belts). We would break through. There's always room for improvement, but anti-tank mines as we know them haven't stopped offensives in WW2 and won't in the future.





The cheapest deterrence is for free

It's a tragedy, but the current Russo-Ukrianian War shows that modern inter-state warfare can last a long time, just as in the past. Moreover, it shows that army buildups in the years leading up to a war are a thing, just as in the past.*
The tragedy of war is terrible, but there's a good side of the coin; extremely cheap means to deter aggression have become very plausible and also more visible.
1) The ability to grow up the armed forces personnel-wise is now easily recognizable as valuable, and having deterrence value. 
2) Artillery munitions stocks are really cheap compared to maintaining a large pool of personnel on active duty.
1,500 € per shell, 500 € per multifunction fuse, 1,000 € for propellant modules, 500 € for packaging and storage at suitable climate sum up to merely € 3.5 bn for a million 155 mm HE shots.
3) The ability to grow up the armed forces material-wise within a year is now a topic as well, and to demonstrate such ability would help to dissuade a wannabe aggressor's attempt to gain an advantage through a two-yer arms race.
This ability is in part about actual economic capabilities, but it's also about legislative and administrative preparation. A law should be on the books (and administrative procedures and forms prepared) for the case of commandeering vehicles and equipment, for forcing the economy to priority-build dictated quantities of equipment (up to the government replacing the top management to force compliance).
Such a law would have helped us greatly to respond to Ukraine's shell hunger. Such a law is FOR FREE.

#1) This means in my opinion that we should have great many men (and women, whatever) who underwent a fine basic military training (3...6 months) and could quickly be called up for specialised training (equipment, doctrine, small unit and unit training) that lasts for weeks.**
Moreover, we should have great many junior non-commissioned officers (active time on duty until going into reserve no more than two years) and great many junior officers (no more than three years).
The Bundeswehr is rather preparing and maintaining a huge quantity of senior officers, which lets the force rot, as there's a lack of reinvestments, spare parts, exercises and an imbalance of personnel (1/3 officers, 1/3 non-commissioned officers, 1/3 enlisted personnel). A wartime German army needs no more than one Colonel, six majors and about 30 captains per brigade. All other officers could be reserve lieutenants, each paired with one experienced senior NCO. Civilian managers conscripted to serve as reserve officers can lead all the kinds of support services in wartime that peacetime armies employ LtCol and Col ranks for.

#2) Germany could easily have stocked up 10 million 155 mm HE shots post-Cold War by saving the money spent on obvious bollocks. A large quantity of NATO standard artillery munitions in Central Europe would have been a huge boon for NATO defence plans (which apparenlty weren't even being prepared until about 2009 IIRC) and it would have given us enough munitions to help Ukraine decisively by now.
The German military budget wasn't too small; it was (and is) mismanaged.
#3) We don't need substantial army rotary aviation. We don't need substantial air force transport aircraft fleets, we don't need more army logistics vehicles other than the ones supposed to carry fuel and munitions within the brigade. We don't need offroad cars (or even MRAPs) to equip resevre brigades. We don't need expensive tractor vehicle for tank transporter trailers in quantities that would enable the entire army to deploy quickly. We can commandeer and conscript. That would enable us to equip 20 reserve brigades on the cheap if we wanted to do so. That's also how the Finns do it; agricultural tractors and civilian motor vehicles are meant for use in their army reserve formations.

I see a lot of talk (writing) that's firmly within the establishment paradigm of paying 99% attention to army peacetime strength (formations, platforms, personnel). This paradigm calls for more and more money, ever more money, for the purpose of deterrence and defence and often produces hollow forces.
This is stupid. There are more cost-effective ways that serve the group thinking senior officer caste's interests and leanings less. We should not waste money on avoidable inefficiencies in deterrence & defence!
*: The arms race in Europe 1933-1939 (for the U.S. extending into 1941) was msot obvious, but there was also a marked increase in military buildup efforts in 1912-1914. The German parliament gave up its resistance to calls for more army corps (to counter the decades-long French army buildup) in 1912, for example.
**: Another inisght from Ukrainians; motivated people can learn specialised military trades and using complicated equipment really quick, mcuh quicker than in ordinary peacetime training courses.


Ukraine and NATO membership

I see three ways to look at the question whether Ukraine should be permitted to join the North Atlantic Treaty.

  1. The egoistical view: What's in it for us?
  2. The idealistic view: We should protect them!
  3. The international order view: Wars of aggression should not happen!

The egoistical view makes some sense (disclaimer; I applied it in some early blogging). It was utterly standard before 1939. NATO truly changed the perception of alliances. Nowadays it feels a bit out of fashion, but an alliance was in the past either forced on a state or it was entered voluntarily out of self-interest. It may be argued that Ukraine joining NATO is in NATO members' self-interest, but the biggst advantage is unlikely to be had; to add Ukrainian military power allows the old members to spend less on their militaries for the same degree of security. Vested interests are hell-bent on spending ever more on the military-industrial complex. A variation of the egoistical view is Machiavellian power foreign policy gaming.

The idealistic view is enticing, especially if you don't have much emotional distance to the war and pay much attention to Russian atrocities. I'd like to point out that to help others without equivalent benefit to the own people is a violation of the German cabinet's oath of office, which requires to avoid harm to the German people. They violate this oath casually with all kinds of foreign policy, of course. The government of a state is in my opinion the people of that state doing those things together for their own good that cannot better be done alone or with other forms of association. A government is supposed to serve its nation, not to serve other nations.

The international order view is my current view. I think it's vastly superior and vastly better-suited to the topic. It has huge conclusions, though: Those who apply it must support Ukraine's intent to fight on till all of Ukraine is liberated, including Crimea. Wars of aggression shall not happen, thus it's necessary to make them 'unprofitable'. Personal risks to Putin himself are desirable in this framework. Other potential aggressors should fear for their personal well-being (power, riches and life) in case they dare to launch a war of aggression. Another huge conclusion is that the accusation of hypocrisy has to be solved by staying on the "international order view" at all times, inlcuding when the offender is a friendly or allied country. Almost all cruise missile attacks and bombings by the UK, U.S. and Poland post-1953 were illegal (even under U.S. law, which Americans prefer to ignore). The 1991 liberation of Kuwait and the 1982 Falklands War were notable exceptions.

The international order view is a bit weak regarding the risking of nuclear war. The Russian kleptocracy regime used the nuclear threat in a comical fashion and regularity, but the possibility of a violation of the nuclear taboo is real. So either we widen the international order view from "Wars of aggression should not happen!" to include "Nuclear strikes are taboo!" or we need to combine it with the egoistical view's disdain for a nuclear strike to get a properly encompassing view. And then things get really difficult to judge, with a huge grey zone of possibly correct conclusions.





Collectivist attitudes as national security threats


Turkey is making demands for a Swedish accession to the North Atlantic Treaty.

I've seen very negative opinions about this. It's understandable that people oppose this Turkish decision, but Turkey is a sovereign country. It can refuse to ratify a treaty at will, without giving a reason. That's not unreliably, that's not irresponsible, that's not evil, that's not in any way indicative of being a bad treaty partner. It's a sovereign privilege of Turkey to make its own decisions.

Some of the criticism seemed to go beyond mere displeasure. I perceived hints of an attitude behind the criticism; some people are applying a collectivist mindset in which Turkey has to do what the crowd wants instead of making its own decisions.

That's an attack on the Turkish sovereignty, and a systemic one that needs to be opposed for the sake of the sovereignty of other NATO members. It reminds me a bit of the hatemongering against those countries which did not follow the Neocon lie-based warmongering against Iraq in 2002/2003 (especially France). This shows how potentially harmful and evil such a collectivist attitude can be.

Moreover, the EU appears to be built on the ideology that doing things together is always better than doing them nationally, and thus appears to be especially prone to similar collectivist attitude and pressuring. There's in my opinion great potential for harm in this, and I consider these collectivist attitudes to be a kind of national security threats.






Littoral modesty


This is a 2020 paper draft that was IIRC submitted to and rejected by CIMSEC (they published other drafts of mine). I just rediscovered it and don't remember having it published on D&F (and a quick search didn't find it, either). In worst case it's a cosmetically changed repost.

Small and regional powers with coastlines have legitimate maritime law enforcement and defence interests. Their governments should pursue the public interest, and it’s a seemingly trivial decision to seek maritime power for this.  
The history of small and regional maritime powers does not easily or clearly support the notion that allocating great resources to the maritime domain is wise, though. Such an expenditure should yield greater benefits than the costs incurred, for else it causes net harm to the own country. 
There are many examples of inefficient small and regional power navies:
Iran’s navy failed to enforce a naval blockade on the aggressor Iraq during the Gulf War in the 1980’s. Such a blockade was potentially decisive and the geography as well as Iranian pre-war investments in naval and air power made it look very easy, but third party intervention ruined the strategy for Iran.
The Argentinian navy proved to be irrelevant in the Falklands War save for one coastal-launched anti-ship missile and naval light strike aircraft operating from a continental airbase.
The navies of Italy and Hungary-Austria had their glorious battle at Lissa in 1866, but the naval battle winning-Austria-Hungary still lost the war.
The navies of Siam, China, Chile, Poland, Russia, Pakistan and even Germany were more a drain of resources than war winners throughout their histories. Even the navy of France has little to show in terms of useful performance relative to its budgeting since the mid-18th century.
There are precious few examples of successful and relevant small wartime navies, such as Greece in the First Balkan War (naval blockade of Ottoman ports) and Sri Lanka in the late stage of the Sri Lankan Civil War (naval blockade against arms-running boats). Auxiliary cruisers refitted during wartime were important to exploit successes of a few modern regular warships in the former case and small speedy gunboats built during wartime were decisive in the latter case.
Learning about naval history should rather discourage small and regional powers from affording much of a seagoing navy. This can be explained with a naval “The winner takes it all” pattern
There’s rarely a naval conflict in which the inferior navy is of much utility. The superior navy can enforce or break blockades, can conduct land attacks and even invasions. The inferior navy suffers and may inflict suffering, but doesn’t prove to be decisive in favour of its country. Land-based assets, submarines and at least up to WW2 also small motor torpedo boats and auxiliary cruisers (merchant raiders) were the only tactically usually successful assets for underdog naval powers. They can still operate when and where surface warship fleets would get wiped out. Surface warship fleets are useful for dominant navies only. Yet even superior navies need to employ their surface fleets with caution and avoid many too dangerous areas.
Small and regional maritime powers should thus be aware that spending great resources on a seagoing miniature navy is most unlikely to be cost-efficient. Even a (usually expensive) submarine force is of very questionable value. The largest submarine force of history lost its war and the modern Argentinians submarine fleet achieved nothing relevant at the Falklands.
Land-based assets on the other hand may be survivable and effective enough to justify themselves with their deterrence value.  Modern minehunting and minebreaking is largely done by drones, and there’s little reason why these could not be operated from land rather than from some minehunter.
Anti-ship missiles can be launched from land, and receive their targeting information from air power. This was tactically successful for Argentina and Ukraine and is an important capability to Sweden and Taiwan. They can also be launched by land-based aircraft, and be synchronised with anti-radar missiles.
Sea lanes close to the coast could be secured against submarines by multistatic low frequency active sonar (LFAS) networks that make use of semi-mobile receivers with cable connection to land and a few tug-pulled emitters, or even buoy LFAS emitters with cable connection to land. Contact verification could be done with minehunting sensor drones (that usually identify naval mines, could be delivered by rotary wing drone) or (as a most expensive and fragile solution) by ASW helicopters. Submarines could be engaged by self-deploying self-recovering naval mines (essentially electric heavyweight torpedoes), quickly rocket-delivered lightweight torpedoes (similar to the RUM-125B Sea Lance project) or rotary wing drone-deployed lightweight torpedoes.
An ordinary ASW frigate with one ASW helicopter can cost nearly a billion dollars till operational and is a juicy “all eggs in one basket” high value target by comparison to such a resilient coastal ASW network. The frigate would no doubt be preferred by admirals on an emotional level, though.
Small and regional maritime powers need more than wartime capability, of course.
Iceland’s coastal guard has shown during the “Cod Wars” that a coast guard can achieve much with great determination and audacity in spite of little resources and without firing a shot. Policing and sea rescue boats as well as maritime surveillance equipment (over the horizon radars, light twin engine planes with FLIR, radar, E/O zoom camera and possibly additional sensors to detect illegal environmental pollution by ships) do make sense. Maritime SAR helicopters with a secondary policing (boarding) missions are another fairly easily justified coast guard asset for many of the wealthier countries.
Smalls and regional powers do also require a suitable national maritime policy to ward off territorial or other challenges, not just tools.
Such a policy should be multinational. A great power may choose to pick on a small power, but great powers are not known for overt aggressions towards a group of small powers that opposes transgressions unitedly. A challenge to a maritime exclusive economic zone claim by a warship-escorted fishing fleet should be answered by a multinational coast guard boat task force, for example. Even a modern destroyer is at great risk when surrounded by three gun-armed coast guard boats at short distance. A suitable design of the coast guard boats could make the risk in ramming incidents unbearable for every destroyer captain.
There are alternative ways to pursue a small or regional power’s goals in the littorals than a conventional miniature navy. These alternatives may be a lot more robust and useful in wartime and fully satisfactory in SAR and policing during peacetime.
Navies do define themselves as organisations with a warship fleet, and the interest in having such platforms creates a bias against non-warship answers to the challenges.


Shipbuilding disparity and the USN


I wrote about this before.

It's nonsense for the USN to try compete with the PLAN (PR China) in a shipbuilding arms race. The U.S. has almost no capacity to begin with.

South Korea and Japan are the two other shipbuilding giants, but it would endanger South Korea's security if it became the USN's shipyard and Japan has the same problme to a lesser extent. The Congress of the U.S. would not authorise spending a hundred billion dollars or so in shipbuilding abroad anyway, for building ships abroad costs almost twise as much as building at home (because almost none of the money flows back as taxes and saved social spending).

It's bureaucratic self-interest and path dependency inertia that the USN is building warships at all. They cannot possibly win a surface fleet arms race with China.

There are smart ways, and the U.S. actually has the upper hand. it just needs to be smart enough.

A blockade of China does not require a fleet of surface warships.



and smart diplomacy may reduce the problem anyway:


Not every country with a coastline needs a navy, and not every navy needs a fleet of surface combatants. Smarter thinking leads sometimes to different force designs.

The USN can compete in terms of equipping auxiliary cruisers. It can compete with expeditionary airfields for tactical aircraft, with tanker aircraft (including wartime converison of airliners to tankers) and with transport aircraft for missile saturation attacks on naval convoys/task forces.

Instead, the USN is stuck in a paradigm of land attack (with explosives or marines) and nuclear deterrence. The former is unnecessary to deter or "win" a war because PRC would not prefer a decade of naval blockade and financial/cyber 'warfare' over a solution regarding Taiwan that the U.S. could live with. The latter can nowadays be done with road-mobile semitrailers and thus also with armed merchantmen.


similar topic blog post: