Mea culpa a.k.a. Great news!


Some of my writing (or much) around 2010 was based on the assumption that frontlines would be indefensible in a European conventional war (at least involving NATO), or that such a large war would end before enough troops arrive in the theatre of war to enable a defensible frontline.

Here's a particularly late example.

I wrote about the functions of frontlines and how to replace those instead of having fragile mechanised battlegroups only. Mechanised forces need to rest much of the time, and they risk being overrun in bivouac if they rest without the protection of a defensible front-line. And by "defensible" I mean that it takes a concentration of forces and a proper breakthrough effort to penetrate it. This means that it would be too risky to infiltrate with armoured recce as raiders and similar, for they might fail to exfiltrate even if they somehow successfully infiltrate.

Well, the Ukraine War shows that the Ukraine - a country hat never before spent even only € 10 billion on defence in a single year - can hold a ~1000 km frontline against the Russian land and air forces' conventional might with foreign material assistance that does not seem to exceed its peacetime credit worthiness.

What went wrong?

The Russian land and air forces' conventional might is crap. Their only strengths were huge stocks of dumb munitions and at least nominally good quantities in relation to Ukraine's forces, especially in the air.

Right now it appears that I rather described what would happen in conventional war between Russia and China with their extremely long border (and in Mongolia) rather than describing what would happen in Europe. I admit, I did assume shorter acceptable defensive frontages per brigade or division than was widely accepted in NATO army doctrines anyway.

So I was wrong, and that's great news!

The feasibility of frontlines means that NATO could apply its hugely superior air power from the safety behind a rather reliable frontline. It also means that the Baltics - and especially Lithuania - would not almost inevitably be overrun, as not just I assumed.

The newfound confidence in the defensibility of frontlines also means that the force structures of NATO armies are very wrong, and again that's great news! We have an emphasis on mechanised forces in our armies, and some armies went for a medium weight route in an attempt to avoid the costs of 'heavy' brigades of the mechanised infantry or tank brigade style (both with many main battle tanks and tracked infantry fighting vehicles). We can instead spend much less on our armies by operating with 'motorised infantry' style brigades (or divisions). These would emphasise infantry numbers (and reserves) and artillery (with emphasis on long practical range), while armoured vehicles would be reduced to maybe one tank battalion per division (for counterattacks mostly) and relatively cheap armoured transports to insert/supply/evacuate infantry. We could even make much use of reservists, with half of such formations being reservists formations and the active ones being scheduled to get full infantry replacements after about 100 combat days.

So great findings overall!

The conclusion from the Russo-Ukrainian War is not just that the Russian land and air forces are as bad as barely imaginable before the war: It's also that they have been further degraded by attrition, their munition stocks are heavily reduced and their level of competence is so low that they permit vastly lower cost land warfare paradigms to be used.

The icing on the cake is that their weaknesses were old ones; they are displaying a perfect storm of all the weaknesses shown by Russian&Soviet armies and air forces in the past 200 years. There's thus very little reason to believe that they could "military reform" most of their debilitating weaknesses away in a decade or two. Those weaknesses are deeply ingrained ones.

The overall conclusion should be that we should reorganise for MUCH lower defence budgets and reorient our societies' resources to address other challenges, such as the decarbonisation.

It is a sad truth that primitive thinking rules over us. The widespread perception is that the threat is bigger rather than smaller, and that the expenditures of the past were inadequate to face it. That's total bollocks. Ukraine defends against Russia with less than Germany's defence budget. They didn't exceed a fourth of our defence budget in any year before 2022. We (NATO / EU) overspend on defence and should be focused on improving the efficiency of military spending rather than indulging in the absolute primitiveness of discussing or even passing increased military budgets.





  1. "Thou shall not abolish your army, stockpiles, surplus tanks."
    I like the approach of light infantry (mobilised with e.g. cheap MISU Protolab) and more long range artillery (with guided projectiles to have a better wear/kill ratio per round), loitering HARM drones, and organic air defence components.
    But simpy never get rid of old stuff and keep them in acceptable condition, keep ammo in stock and keep your own in-country production running.

  2. I interpret the ongoing decoupling from China as a preparation for war. Im not sure about the frontlines. Russia has shown that India is able to reach agreements with China. It might not happen this decade, but we're headed that direction.
    The higher, even after subtracting faked numbers, growth in Asia means that we're relatively losing power. While you imagine war with frontlines, I think control over people and territory can also be achieved by other means such as criminal organizations with light infantry weapons setting up an extortion racket, especially in places where the military already is a racket.

  3. You are wrong again. Why do you imagine any future war as an analogue of Ukraine. You fall into a familiar trap - generals always prepare for the last war. In fact, the current example will make all advanced military nations flee from the stalemate Russia is stuck in, because it is very costly to the economy and reputation. Small nations, on the other hand, will develop defense strategies in this direction, hoping that prolonged war will discourage the aggressor and find allies.
    However, the strategy of blocking the opponent has many disadvantages.
    1. You are not winning the war!
    2. You risk losing from exhaustion if there is no one to help you enough.
    3. You ruin the economy and traumatize society, and the longer the war drags on, the worse it gets.
    4. You risk losing democracy because war is its enemy. Look at what is happening in Russia, how much has changed in one year. Ukraine has so far avoided this trap, mostly because it would otherwise block Western aid. War, especially a long one, always leads to internal instability and extremism.
    5. In a stalemate, you risk getting a "frozen" conflict and a conflict for centuries. The Russians are masters of this.

    Why am I writing this? Because the author of the text proposes a passive defensive strategy of militias and territorial defense. This strategy is only suitable when there are no other options!! The war is better not to start. But when he starts fighting for victory! The sooner and more decisively, the better. I thought that everyone had learned from the wars of the 20th century, but apparently the lessons of history are quickly forgotten.

    1. I propose no purely defensive approach.
      I diagnose that the cost-efficient combo of line and exploitation forces is effective against the only significant threat in Europe.
      You don't need more than 20% of the field army to be exploitation formations to possess giant potential for offensive manoeuvres. THAT is a lesson backed up by WW2.

  4. Could you expand further on the following points from the Russia / Ukraine war and how they would impact the makeup of a more efficient NATO force to deter Russian agresion:
    Equipment and munitions: western media is continually running stories about how their stocks have been depleted as they've all been given to Ukraine; would NATO need to go back to 1980's levels of inventory (or more)?
    Casualties: It seems that Ukraine has suffered around 100,000 combat casualties so far. Would / should NATO expect to see equivalent levels in defending itself from Russia?
    Protection of infrastructure: how should NATO protect power stations / oil refineries etc

    1. NATO would need less shells to defeat Russians because it would use much more airpower and manoeuvre. 30 days army & air force munitions seems about sensible even if a war might last much longer. We are way below that level.

      Casualties: Two other issues override that. (1) Units are not at 100% strength in peacetime and some troops are not deployable. We might need 120% 'manning' for units going to war at 100% strength.
      (2) Combat troops will be burnt out or shellshocked and become combat ineffective after about 110 combat days.
      Actual attrition would usually stay below 30%. We need reservists to replace troops, but not just physical casualties.

      I think we should largely disregard anti-platform air defences in rear areas and focus on anti-munitions (Tamir, 30mm, jamming, concealment) instead. I will replace my air defence blog post accordingly (sometime).

  5. We have 3 types of APC.
    1. Good enough to resist artillery fragments. This would be those in the 10 tons range (M113, BMP).
    2. Good enough to resist infantry assault, including 20..25mm antimaterial rifles .this would be in the range of 30 tons,like Piranha 5.
    3. Heavy APC, good enough to resist to large caliber guns . This would be usually above 50 ..60 tons,like Namer.
    4. Stryker is somehow between 1 and 2 categories and personally I was never a fan of it. It looks like it was a quickly designed expeditionary vehicle against poorly armed combatants . Too light to resist well armed infantry and too heavy for resisting artillery fragments. It is worse than Bradley, but good for roads. Obviously better than nothing

  6. "should be focused on improving the efficiency of military spending rather than indulging in the absolute primitiveness of discussing or even passing increased military budgets."

    Agreed. The wastage in defence spending is astronomical. I think the future is pointing towards low cost, mass produced options; rather than spending Billions on platforms that are too valuable to lose in a conflict.

    1. Although, I think the move to unmanned/remote systems will lead to a fight over control of Satellites and space, which will in turn drive up defence costs as it opens up a new battlefield that nobody has fought in before.