Anti-tank mines


Long frontlines are defensible after all when you're facing the Russian land forces because they suck and can't even match the state of art of breakthrough of 1917.

This means that frontline defence is something to look at - something I clearly didn't do much in the past.

The most messy element of a breakthrough is in my opinion the need to overcome (defended) AT minefields.

Anti-tank mines can be scatterable (and then lay on the surface) by helicopter or rockets, but fortifying a frontline for months demands an emphasis on properly-laid anti-tank mines that are just below the surface.

The laying of such AT mines leaves some visible traces, but this can be exploited to creating fake mine barriers without expending any mines.

A typical minelaying trailer/plough, source Ministry of Defence Ukraine

There are different kinds of AT mines. The simple pressure-fused circular mines are not very efficient. A more efficient form of AT mine is the bar mine, which is laid crosswise to the expected movement direction of hostile vehicles and can be triggered by pressure along its entire length (AT mines require pressures that normal humans don't generate without jumping onto the mine). This bar mine concept originated in Italy and was copied by Germany during WW2.

Italian WW2 bar mine (wooden)

A modern bar mine does not neet to be a simple blast mine. A linear shaped charge might make sense. Linear shaped charges might not cut through a tank's belly, but they would easily cut tracks with much less explosives than a blast mine. A downside would be the magnetic signature of the mine. A simple blast mine on the other hand could be largely non-magnetic, which has major upsides (low-flying tiny drones could map the locations of actual mines by using magnetic anomaly detectors).

Linear shaped charges, widely used in demolition

Moreover, the fusing should not be simple pressure fusing, so thermobaric and high explosive munitions cannot clear a lane in the minefield reliably. The fuse should either be built to require a longer pressure than explosions do cause or it should have a second fuse (acoustic or magnetic) confirming the contact before the charge explodes.

Magnetic-acoustic/vibration fusing can be combined with ordinary non-bar shaped AT mines. The advantage would be fusing across the entire tank's width rather than only under the tracks. This means a shaped charge(s) effect could be used to penetrate to the driver (or an IFV's engine). The blast would still be enough to cut tracks if they're on top of the mine. Personally, I would not trust such fusing because it can be defeated without damage to the mineclearing equipment and the fusing principle has a huge challenge in determining the right time for the explosion.

Tilting rod fuses can be used as well to explode a mine when a tank is touching the rod, but having a rod extend 60 cm from the soil seems to invite simple countermeasures to me. Furthermore, such tilt rod fuses can be activated by people, so there's the AP land mine ban issue.

The explosives should be insensitive enough to not go off on the shock of nearby explosions (or vegetation fires) for the same reason.

The mines should have a self-deactivation function (programmable time). They might also have a radio receiver and processor, so they can receive coded signals to deactivate and activate. This would enable friendly forces to pass when the mines are deactivated. Such functions do require a battery, though.

In any case, the minelaying device should create accurate recordings of the positions of laid mines.

None of the AT mines should have any trap mechanism against pickup; this would turn them into banned anti-personnel mines. It should be militarily unnecessary anyway.

Last but not least, the mines should have an interface for a demolitions fuse, so they could alternatively be used for demolition purposes.

- - - - -

A defensive AT mine barrier (behind a picket & skirmish zone) could consist of 

  • multiple fake mine rows
  • a few low density mine rows
  • a few high density mine rows
  • ATGM teams with thermal sights guarding the actual mine rows against clearing vehicles in areas of long lines of sight
  • infantry, remotely-operated AT weapons and jumping mines guarding the actual mine rows against clearing vehicles in areas of short lines of sight
About jumping mines; these videos explain this 1990's technology. They're very expensive and tend to hit the vehicle engine, stopping the tank or minesweeping vehicle. Enough and suitable passive armour on top could mitigate that.

- - - - -

Infantry positions can be dealt with by proper reconnaissance, a decent brief artillery fires plan and a rapid assault with armoured vehicles (including dismounting infantry) with suppressive HE fires up front and smoke on the flanks. Resistance by infantry should be weak and largely ineffective if this is done correctly. Modern technology should even enable hasty attacks with near-full use of this breakthrough pattern.

A resilient AT minefield can mess with such a breakthrough plan. It makes the assault more hazardous and slower. The ATGM defences may only need to stop the few mineclearing vehicles in order to stall a breakthrough effort.

AT mines are not very expensive (save for the jumping ones) and are no high tech. The laying of such minefields is not terribly demanding, either. AT minefields can thus be a very affordable reinforcement to those forces that defend a frontline.

It may make sense even for NATO to pay attention to defending frontlines because this would enable a lower risk build-up of forces, an exploitation of superior artillery targeting ability and an exploitation of superior air power. To go all-mobile warfare with mechanised forces right away would be rather risky by comparison, especially as there are usually relatively few NATO forces on the Eastern frontier.




P.S.: There are lightweight AT mines meant for laying by infantry (rather than engineers). They can be very lightweight (about 1 kg) with a full-width fuse (magnetic, magnetic-acoustic or tilt rod) and are not meant for large minefields, but rather to be laid in a few select places. They may make sense in an AT plan, but the concept appears to be rather attrition-oriented than meant to stop or slow down a large assault. They could still be worthwhile, particularly with a secondary use for demolition & wall-breaching by infantry.



A compact and agile exploitation brigade

German post-WW2 literature written by German WW2 veteran officers* concluded that the optimum for a mechanised force would be a 1:1 ratio between tank and infantry battalions, with tank battalions being square designs (four tank companies) and infantry battalions being triangular (three infantry companies + maybe a heavy weapons company).

I'll use this as basic recipe to sketch a possible super-compact yet powerful-enough brigade for exploitation (incl. raid), delaying action and counterattack roles - a small tank brigade. Americans might call it a Cavalry Brigade.

So far the table of organisation is:

HQ unit (~60 personnel including signallers and attached military police, divided into administrative component on soft wheeled vehicles and command element in action with protected wheeled offroad vehicles)

Tank Battalion (four AFV companies and a support company including tracked protected recovery and bridgelaying vehicles)

Infantry Battalion (three infantry companies and a support company)

I will assume that most of the breakthrough effort would be done by other forces, thus the brigade would have but a small obstacle-breaching ability. It does face logistical challenges in action, as it would be de facto cut off during a raid.

This adds a

Support Battalion (medical 'patch up' lorries, heavy dedicated tanker lorries, munitions carrier lorries, electronic warfare, sensors, few engineers, 'first aid' for vehicles with wreckers that have a powerful crane & spare parts)

I do not assume that a full-size vehicle repair workshop should be organic. It would be left behind during a tank raid mission anyway, so it can be left at divisional or corps level.

There's an interesting detail that is not commonly used: The munitions carriers of the Support Bn should have a dual role; they should be usable as personnel carriers after the munitions were withdrawn, complete with fresh air, toilet, windows, heating, folding benches and fresh water supply. It's important that this cargo/passenger compartment is lockable from outside (without a key), for the passengers might be prisoners of war.

AFV with Cockerill XC-8 turret (105 mm version, 42° max. elevation)

The structure does so far show armour and infantry, where's the third component of the classic combined arms triad, the artillery (indirect fires including mortars)? That's in those battalions as well. The support company of the Infantry Bn can easily have a couple mortars (as German Panzergrenadier battalions had for decades) and the tanks used in the Tank Bn can be dual role tanks; tank turrets with 42° maximum elevation can be used for indirect fires out to more than 15 km distance if the fire control, position- and northfinding and the munition suit this role. The high explosive (HE) cartridges can be semi-fixed; the shell can be removed from the case, so the quantity of propellant modules in the case can be changed. This allows different muzzle velocities including low muzzle velocities needed for arched trajectories. An alternative would be to use drag rings as often used with rockets of multiple rocket launchers to reduce the usually awfully long minimum range of multiple rocket launchers. A drag ring attachment (or a trajectory correcting fuze with deployable drag elements) would not bend the trajectory as much as a minimised propellant strength would do, but it might offer a variable trajectory with a fixed cartridge.

This allows for fires similar to howitzers; the tank gun becomes a tank gun-howitzer. The armour companies don't stick together, so there's always at least one company with nominally 9...12 tank gun-howitzers in position to assist another with indirect HE fires. An infantry fighting vehicle as base vehicle would feature a front engine and a rear door for easy munitions resupply (ready munitions only in the turret bustle for safety reasons). This means the indirect fires could be done with a continuous munitions supply from outside. One munitions supply vehicle could simultaneously supply three tanks via slides with HE cartridges. Thus it makes sense to have tank platoons of three tanks each in this structure. The fourth vehicle of the platoon would be the well-protected tracked support vehicle with HE munitions, three slides, a recovery winch, a full-width mine plough (suitable for clearing a path from most mine types for other vehicles or helping to fixate the vehicle during winch use), a 360° machinegun and a (tethered) observation drone system (thus a crew of two or three if no tank crewmember helps with the munitions transfers).

A few mortars in the Support Coy of the Infantry Bn would permit high angle fires at very short minimum distances, and would be very suitable for (IR) illumination, HE, incendiary and (multispectral) smoke fires.

Small side remark; modern continuous band tracks make the vehicle much less noisy, enabling more surprise effects and reducing crew fatigue that's caused by noise and vibrations.

Air defence; high elevation tank guns can take down easy exposed targets (drones & helicopters) with HE shells and electronic time fusing (also great to engage troops in visible trenches). Other air defences would be remotely controlled weapon stations with machineguns and ManPADS.

This begs the question of air search (alerting) radars; rotating track&search on-the-move radars should do the trick. This radar should be mounted on an elevating mast for stationary operation from behind a building. Even a raiding force is standing more than moving, after all.

Czech Snezka artillery / ground surveillance radar system
The very same radar could be used to detect vehicle movements on the ground and artillery shell splashes (at least with point detonation or delay fuse settings). It might also be used for select radio frequency jamming missions within its own radar band. There may also be air threat data by air force assets (such as AWACS) be downloaded via air force radio datalinks.

Radars alone don't suffice as electronic warfare components. More wideband receivers (direction finders) can be of great use to locate radiating opposing forces. Directional RF jammers against drones are inevitable for the period of transition till drone are autonomous. Tanks, infantry sections and other small units may have such jammers. Radio frequency direction finding vehicles would be with the Support Battalion to triangulate threats and inform a few assault-supporting jammers that add to confusion of opposing forces in contact by briefly jamming their radio communications. These jammers should be active on the move, as they may easily be triangulated and thus become subjected to fires.

Anti-tank work would be done by the tanks (direct and rarely indirect fires), by fibre-optic guided missiles/loitering munitions (in Infantry Bn Support Coy), by infantry (dimensioned against weaker protection than MBT level to limit the burden) and in worst case by 'all arms' anti-tank work (by the support troops with unguided portable AT weapons and munitions).

The size of such a force could be kept small for maximum agility and a humanly doable leadership challenge in action. I suppose the whole formation could stay smaller than 1,500 troops** with more than four personnel per vehicle***, particularly if one mostly avoids low and medium capacity vehicles (less than 10 tons of payload, save for a few cars available to military police as well as two per Bde staff, Bn staff and Coy leadership each).

The mobility should be two-tiered; combat vehicles (including APCs for infantry of at least two companies) and their immediate support vehicles (including the mortar carriers) should be very offroad-capable, all others should be offroad-capable enough for bad unpaved roads, for driving around a cratered road and deep wading up to 120 cm depth.

All vehicles that join an exploitation mission / a raid should at least have basic protection (vertical armour protecting against PKM steel core bullets at 100 m and equivalent fragmentation protection) and pneumatic tyres are unacceptable in my opinion. Airless tires and continuous composite bandtracks would be my choice.

A mostly unsolved challenge of this and real world TO&Es is the evacuation of wounded troops, wounded prisoners and civilians during a raid. Airlift (usually by helicopter) may be much too dangerous even at night and movement by ground much too dangerous when the formation is raiding or racing ahead as part of a pincer movement. These protected persons could not be cared for very well by the formation, especially the badly wounded would suffer. Emergency surgeries ('patching up'), painkillers, disinfection, bandaging, infusions, food&drinks and shelter from weather would be possible and not much more.

Another restriction is that this structure would not offer much in terms of civil-military relationship specialists or military intelligence processing capacity.

- - - - -

This TO&E sketch keeps such a (small) brigade agile, and exploits a much-increased versatility of the tank component.

This force has much more tanks available than a Russian BTG of about half its size had; 36...48 tanks rather than typically 10...12. The Russian BTG proved to be too light on tanks for manoeuvre warfare, as its BMPs were too poorly protected and equipped for much aggressive action. A mere dozen combat vehicles able to shrug off at least some ATGM hits was not enough for locally overwhelming presence with flanking attack ability. The Russian MBTs (usually some of the few are not operational at any given time) often fought in platoon strength or less.

Their protection should be rated between Russian MBT and Russian BMP IFVs, though it could be better than either if at least an anti-HEAT hard kill active protection system (such as the lightened Iron Fist version) was used. The costs of such an APS can be reduced by using a single rotating radar antenna instead of four fixed ones (2 rpm should be still good enough to intercept with 0.75 sec delay = enough against ATGMs at 150+ to 500+ m depending on type).

Heavy MBTs would be desirable for pitched battles against well-equipped and battle-ready opposition, but this formation would primarily fight against much less battle-ready opposition and should avoid battles against battle-ready combat troops of battalion size and more.**** It should thus rarely face 125 mm tank guns against which none of its vehicles would be protected (which doesn't mean that they'd lose a fight with a 125 mm tank gun-armed MBT!). The exceptions of intentionally fighting battle-ready combat troops should be the infiltration breakthrough and the exfiltration breakthrough, in both cases friendly forces would greatly support the breakthrough including necessary obstacle breaching and larger calibre artillery fires for the breakthrough fires plan. *****

An arsenal of 36...48 gun-howitzers and 6...8 120 mm mortars offers more indirect fire support than any BTG had, too. You wouldn't have all gun-howitzers in both direct and indirect fire roles at the same time, but that's a manageable restriction, as tanks are supposed to be very rarely in line of sight contact (direct fire role) with opposing forces.

Summary table of organisation:

  • HQ Coy
    • combat command element
    • administrative element
  • Tank Bn
    • 4 Armour Coys (total 36...48 tank-howitzers and 9...16 support vehicles)
    • Support Coy (incl. assault bridgelaying, tracked recovery)
  • Infantry Bn
    • 3 Infantry Coys (with APCs)
    • Support Coy (incl. 6...8 self-propelled mortars and FOGM launchers******)
  • Support Bn 
    • recovery&repair (simple repairs only)
    • medical
    • EW&radar
    • fuel supply
    • (V)ShoRAD
    • munition supply & POW transport
    • few engineers (demolition & some EOD)
    • field kitchen and fresh water supply (for all personnel, in trailers, stays in safe areas)

A small army could use this template and make it more versatile by adding an otherwise independent light infantry battalion. Such a reinforced brigade wouldn't be a Tank Bde or 'Cavalry' Bde any more; it would usually be considered to be a Mechanised Infantry Brigade due to the imbalance in favour of infantry. The mindsets would not necessarily fit together well, and the reinforced brigade would be a rather poor line formation due to its short artillery range, but it might make sense in a small army. A very small army of only one such brigade and a  light infantry battalion would need to add a vehicle repair workshop (this one may be all trailers) capable of changing tank turrets and tank guns, though.

A German WW2 veteran officer described a Panzerdivision (tank or armoured division) as a weapon more akin to a rapier than a broadsword. It has to be used with care and accuracy rather than expecting success by brute force, and its purpose is the attack. This did in part inspire this sketch of a small (very agile) brigade that's not optimised for tank battles, major breaching operations or independent breakthrough through prepared defences.



*: An example is F.M.v.Senger-Etterlin, "Die Panzergrenadiere", 1961 and another example (for 1:1 ratio) is Eike Middeldorff, "Handbuch der Taktik", 1957.

**: A brigade has about 1,500...5,500 personnel. The Tank Bn would have 250...300 personnel. Infantry Bn would have about 400...500 personnel.

***: A normal ratio in the U.S.Army is four personnel per vehicle, I deviate by using higher capacity vehicles.

****: It could still defeat them through surprise (speed, flank or rear attack, ambush, pincer attacks) or qualitative superiority.

*****: A reduction of tanks' weight from by more than 1/3 means (from the typical 60+ tons of Leopard 2A6M, M1A2 Abrams, Challenger series) approx. a reduction of fuel consumption by more than 1/3, further increased by enabling continuous composite bandtracks for a total fuel consumption reduction exceeding 1/2.

******: Fibre-optic guided missiles, examples E-FOGM, Polyphem, RALAS. Such missiles are less suitable for cycling over a target area in search of a target than loitering munitions, but the fibre-optic datalink is more trustworthy than a high bandwidth radio datalink.



Things that really matter


I spent a quarter century paying much attention to military affairs, including military hardware.

This included discussions about motor vehicles, armoured vehicles, assault rifles, machineguns, artillery pieces, combat aircraft, missiles, camouflage patterns - even the details of clothes tailoring, quality of gloves and boots led to intense debates and people declaring their favourites.

And now? There's a real, conventional war among Europeans again - not some occupation mission in some sandpit or another.

I didn't see any feedback about this or that assault rifle (of the gazillion different types used) being oh-so great and superior. I didn't see this with machineguns, either. Even the Maxim does still satisfy its users in its original role. Both sides use whatever motor vehicle and armoured vehicle they can get to move under own power. I saw so far no praise for the more modern tank types in use, and only sporadic praise for armoured transport vehicles having done their job of stopping flying chunks of metal. I have absolutely no confirmation for the notion that it matters to have tactical pants of this or that particular brand.

It appears that decent equipment used by motivated and skilled men works; at most times 1980's tech appears to suffice.

Very few items of equipment appear to stand out. In my opinion these are (in no particular order):

  • area air defences that keep surviving, can shoot down cruise missiles at 60 m altitude and force hostile ground attack aircraft to fly lower than that
  • very short range air defences that shoot down UAVs and force even the very low-flying ground attack aircraft to fly very cautious and thus ineffective attacks only (rocket lobbing)
  • morale-boosting anti-MBT weapons/munitions
  • night vision advantage (especially thermal sights that make locating troops easy day and night)
  • felt-lined rubber boots that keep feet dry and healthy in mud and water
  • equipment to intercept and eavesdrop on mobile phone calls and non-encrypting tactical radios
  • satellite imagery capable of locating even small munitions dumps (though this may also be the work of clandestine agents)
  • huge quantities of indirect fire HE munitions (60/81/82/105/120/122/152/155 mm)

  • apparently huge quantities of simple pressure-fused anti-tank mines
  • sensors to patiently locate and identify targets for artillery fires
  • well-working and not too-compromising radio comms (platoon and up)
  • some precision strike munitions (Excalibur, GUMLRS)
  • grenade-dropping RC multicopters
  • ultra-cheap cruise missiles
  • cold weather clothes and sleeping bags
  • use of private smartphones to stay in contact with friends & family (for morale)*

This list is a product of battlefield experiences and a three-stage filter (What was documented? What made it to the internet? What was translated to English?).

Nevertheless, it permits the conclusion that the emphasises of fanbois, the emphasises of arms makers and the emphasises of Western land forces in the past 30 years are a terribly poor match with the realities of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

This can in part be excused by how differently they fight this war. I'm confident that NATO armies would have produced higher rates or artillery, tanks and radar-based air defences. I'm also confident that the Russians would not have held a front-line against NATO forces for that long unless the NATO forces chose to not even attempt a breakthrough. Mobile warfare leads to very different combat actions than harassing fires and attacks with limited objectives along static, dug-in frontlines.



*: I'm actually not sure whether the downsides outweigh this upside.



European security policy and China

So Macron made some waves with his remarks that the anglophone internet doesn't seem to like.


I return to a long-held opinion that security policy (and thus as a part of it, alliances) is supposed to serve the own nation first and foremost.

Americans may have become emotionally invested in Taiwan, Europeans not so much. Americans may feel an irrational desire to ward off a challenge to thier gret power greatness by China, Europeans not so much.

The possibility of a PRC-ROC war concerns Europeans' interests mostly in two ways;

  1. a disruption of globalised supply chains to the point that European countries could lose a quarter of a year's GDP in output if the war and subsequent drastic sanctions last for several years
  2. a violation of the principle that wars of aggression are out

You may have noted that the second was already committed by Russia in 2014, the U.S. & UK in 2003 and many NATO countries in 1999. In fact, Israel and the U.S. do it habitually and casually. So we cannot claim that the 2nd bullet point is an extremely big deal to Europe with honesty and without hypocrisy.

We should also note that both points are already met if the conflict turns hot, regardless of who starts it and who 'wins' it. The European interest is thus to avoid such a conflict, not to "win" it. 

Here's what I think European countries should have as a publicly stated policy in case of PRC attack on any East Asian or Southeast Asian country (including a mere naval blockade):

  • total trade & travel embargo against PRC (save for medical goods & food)
  • enable global maritime blockade against PRC
  • sell military goods to U.S. with permission to deliver those to Taiwan
  • support suspension of PRC in UN

We could even cast this into a law to diminish doubts about this policy.

The counter-trade measures would badly hurt Europe itself, and I added this to the list because I place a much greater emphasis on abolishing wars of aggression than the average European does. At least half of us Europeans are fine with the casual and habitual aggressions by the U.S. and Israel, and the somewhat less often aggressions by Turkey, France and the UK.

In the end, to deter China with military might is too expensive if done the ordinary way. To drastically reduce trade with China in peacetime doesn't fit with the GATT/WTO framework (to let the PRC into the WTO was a colossal mistake) and would have huge economic costs even without a war.

  • We should reduce trade dependency on BOTH Chinas in select critical areas. This is AFAIK possible within WTO using the national security argument.
  • We should evaluate whether and how to supply ROC/Taiwan with what it needs to deter Chinese invasion (I don't think a blockade attempt could be deterred by them on thier own.)*


The most stupid thing to do would be to go all-in on an adversarial stance against China, conduct an air/sea arms race and still play mere auxiliary forces to DoD plans without reducing critical economic dependencies on both Chinas. Americans and anglophone internet appear to want Europeans to do almost exactly that, though. We need some prominent voices to stem that tide. 









*: I think of anti-air, anti-tank and coastal anti-ship weapons, their munitions and the associated targeting and communictions equipment. Artillery and counter-artillery as well as their supplies and peripherals might also make much sense. But first ROC/Taiwan needs to signal that it's serious about being able to fight off an invasion, and this very old blog text on that issue still largely holds true.



Military ranks in an army


The rank system appears to be a mess in all armies. 

The Bundeswehr has 11 officer ranks, 10 non-commissioned officer ranks, 8 enlisted personnel ranks  + 9 medical officer ranks (which have a total of 17 designations because some ranks have variations for human medicine, apothecary and veterinary). I think we really could make do with much less total, maybe ten ranks.

Huge corporations thrive (despite their inefficiencies) with hundreds of thousands of employees without a rank system and usually also without a uniform (especially without a uniform that encompasses manual labourers AND staffs with one uniform).

Armies have decent arguments for having ranks, though. The most solid argument is for a division between

  1. enlisted personnel
  2. non-commissioned officers (leaders who live with the enlisted personnel)
  3. officers (higher level leaders who separate themselves from the enlisted personnel for some psychological reasons

We can further divide between junior and senior non-commissioned officers. The latter of which would not live with the troops in the barracks (peacetime), but justify themselves by being very experienced and thus indispensable for good training of enlisted personnel and junior NCOs. They may also be very helpful authority figures.*

  1. enlisted personnel
  2. junior NCOs
  3. senior NCOs
  4. officers

We can further divide the officers between small unit and unit leaders (up to captain rank) on the one hand and formation commanders (major and up) on the other. The latter require more experience and need to have proved themselves in unit leadership. Battalion (battlegroup) command is the lowest combined arms leadership position, and combined arms expertise requires learning much about at least two arms, which junior NCOs don't need to have done.

  1. enlisted personnel
  2. junior NCOs
  3. senior NCOs
  4. junior officers
  5. senior officers

Now we could take into account that the majority of officers are actually NOT in leadership positions. They're in staff positions. It seems like a strong argument to separate officer ranks by this criterion, but somehow even armies with clearly separate career paths for leadership officers and staff officers usually don't do it for all I know. The maximum example that I'm aware of is the "i.G." suffix used by German armies (i.G. = "im Generalstabsdienst", 'in general staff service').

  1. enlisted personnel
  2. junior NCOs
  3. senior NCOs
  4. junior officers
  5. staff officers
  6. senior officers

The authority to give orders independent of the chain of command would be like

enlisted personnel < junior NCOs and senior NCOs < junior officers < senior officers 


enlisted personnel < junior NCOs and senior NCOs < staff officers

in addition to the position-specific chain of command. (The complicated conditions of command authority don't matter here.)

A participation in NATO headquarters requires that armies send officers with certain NATO-compatible ranks. It's debatable whether NATO HQs are any good and whether North Atlantic Treaty members should withdraw their forces from NATO subordination as France did long ago. Anyway, I strongly suppose that temporary ranks could be assigned to satisfy NATO's idea of ranks if need be.

So I'm at six distinct groups of army combatant personnel. I suppose that we COULD make do with this. A certain unit could have four slots for junior officers, four slots for senior NCOs, dozens of slots for junior NCOs and more than a hundred slots for enlisted personnel. Who gets to work which position exactly after falling into one of these categories would be decided by qualification, JUST AS WE ARE ALREADY SUPPOSED TO DO NOW.

So why do we have such a rank system mess instead?

The simple answers are in my opinion

  • 10%: A lack of self-discipline makes everything messy over time.
  • 90%: Promotions have been misused to give men better pay when a pay rise for the original rank or performance-specific pay bonuses or qualification-specific pay bonuses were more appropriate, but not the policy.

I wouldn't mind adding one rank for unqualified enlisted personnel (recruits until basic or branch training is completed) or another one for medical doctors. 

Here's a list that doesn't seem too radical (that is, I think it could really be done) to me any more:

  1. recruit
  2. soldier
  3. corporal (junior NCO)
  4. sergeant (as senior NCO)
  5. lieutenant (small unit leadership, battalion staffs)
  6. captain (unit leadership, brigade staffs)
  7. major (battalion command, divisional/corps staffs)
  8. colonel (brigade command, national and theatre HQ staffs)
  9. general (divisional and higher commands, army branch leadership)
  10. (doctor)

Would any battles be won through such a rank reform? Would any wars be averted? Would much money be saved? No.

The primary point of reforming the rank system would be to send a strong (symbolic) signal that the undisciplined cancerous mutations and general bollocks of the past are getting wiped away. It would only be worth the effort if that signal is true.

A secondary (and very small) point would be that the importance of qualification for a certain high level job would be highlighted. A current bright 1-star general would not be held back by his rank from getting a post that's meant for a 3-star general.







*: I know that accommodations are more random in reality. Almost anyone in the Bundeswehr can live off-base, so I'm referring a bit to the old school barracks and life in the field here.



Finland joins NATO


Finland joins NATO. It's unfashionable to think so, but alliances used to be a concept in foreign policy to further the own nation's best interests. The notion that a country somehow has to serve an alliance rather than the other way around is a perverse distortion.

What's in it for Germany? Well, the accession of Finland adds almost no additional risk of a hot war (considering its longtime neutral and moderate foreign policy) and Finland adds a lot of land power (especially hundred of thousands of reservists in an army that always took actual defence seriously) to the alliance.

This added military power doesn't improve the odds that Russia would lose a war with NATO and given the demonstration of Russian military shortcomings in Ukraine*, it is beyond reasonable doubt that Finland does not improve the (already 100%) deterrence of Russian aggressions against NATO itself.

The logical conclusion is thus that Finland's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty adds military power on top of already sufficient (for deterence & defence) military power within NATO. 

This means that a continuation of the current military spending levels is necessarily and beyond reasonable doubt wasteful (even assuming there was no inefficiency in it at all). 

The accession of Finland thus means that we (the old NATO members) should revise military spending planning DOWN from the planned levels (at least down from the levels planned before Finland joining might possibly have been 'priced in').

The real benefit to Germany (and most other old NATO members) is thus that we can save military spending, as the alliance has gained military power by adding Finland rather than by adding military spending.

Military spending is not virtuous, it's not productive, it's not an efficient way of promoting science or technology. Military spending is government consumption like spending on armoured sedans for ministers. Its justification is not emotions, it's the achievement of a sufficient deterence (and as backup defence) to protect our freedom, prosperity and lives. It's comparable to buying a good lock for the door of a family home; there's no point in spending ever more money on it if it already does its job well. Likewise, you cannot further the prosperity of the family by spending more on the door lock; it's an entirely unsuitable tool for that purpose.

The insight that the accession of Finland should trigger military spending reductions is as alien to the general debate on military spending as is the insight that Russia proving to be a conventional military Potemkin' village  an empire without clothes, means that we need to spend less on detering it or defending against it than was previously reasonable to believe.

The dominant notion is that somehow we need to spend more on armed forces, and hardly anyone asks about what kind of reasoning supposedly supports that notion. The vested special interests of career officers, arms industry and legislators from arms industry-rich districts combine to support the illogical notion that causes more economic harm to a country than the vast majority of criminals combined.

The most disappointing part is not that we cannot defeat these special interest groups in pursuit of the nation's general interests. The truly disappointing part is that there's hardly anyone even only challenging to that fight.



*: Russia revealed that its armed forces combine all weaknesses and faults ever known from Russian armed forces of the post-Suvorov era at this time (other than the mutiny & revolution of 1917).



China's naval geography problem and the USN


Germany was at a near-hopeless geographic disadvantage in regard to maritime warfare in the First Wold War, and it wasn't much better during the Second World War because peacetime rearmament could not anticipate control over the ports of Western France.

“British Islands: Approximate Positions of Minefields. 19th August 1918.” Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty, under superintendence of Rear-Admiral J.F. Parry, C.B. Hydrographer, August 6th, 1917. William Rea Furlong map collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The British were able to sail into the Atlantic Ocean directly, while Germany had to sail around the British Isles first. This was vastly more relevant than the question whether the nation is made of islands or continental.

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The situation is similarly bad for the PR China, even disregarding the talk of "island chains".

The Western potential opponents of the PR China enjoy the huge advantage that they can find and engage Chinese surface warships and find, inspect and board Chinese cargo ships from bases all over the Pacific, Indian and North Atlantic Ocean as well as the Mediterranean. 

China has almost no overseas bases to speak of during wartime. They have commercial shares of ports and some overseas naval basing arrangements, but IMO only Pakistan's ports would be useful to the PLAN in wartime. Pakistan is a close ally of the PRC due to its existential fears about India and it's a nuclear power. A Chinese warship in a port in neutral Myanmar would be bombed to scrap, but it would likely be blockaded only if in a port in Pakistan.

Land-based air power has ridiculous radii of action with midair refuelling and there's also the American carrier fleet, so PLAN surface vessels could be found, identified and engaged everywhere.

The existence of expensive dedicated air defence destroyers should not deceive anyone into thinking that these ships are anything close to a match for air power. They're based on USN 1943-1945 & USN Cold War approach of having some shipborne anti-air firepower to deal with what penetrated the fighter cover that a battlefleet needs. A hypothetical quality air defence destroyer with 100 quality air defence missiles would almost certainly be overwhelmed by a saturation attack by 100 quality anti-ship missiles, which cost only as much as its air defence missiles. The entire extra cost of the ship (a billion dollars or so) is the financial disadvantage of defence. 

Land-based air power can wipe out surface warships fairly easily if it was prepared for the job (especially with suitable munitions in sufficient quantities, but also with midair refuelling capacity and expeditionary airbases capacity).

This means the PRC has no better perspective at securing its overseas trade or part of it (such as a minimum influx of crude oil) than Germany had in the World Wars. 

The PRC could use the underdog's tool of submarines (the naval asset that can still be employed where hostile airpower is an undiminished threat), but that would merely hurt its enemies a bit, not solve any actual problem of China. Any commerce raiders such as auxiliary cruisers and any offensive minelayers (surface vessels) could only cause an indecisive strawfire comparable to the actions of German cruisers in 1914.

In other words; it's in my opinion ignorant to believe that the USN requires a surface fleet or carrier fleet parity. The PLAN surface fleet can be countered much more reliably, cheaper and with more versatility by land-based air power.

The rapid repair of damages by air attack in WW2 and in modern Ukraine indicates that a carrier- and cruise missile-based land attack strategy is similarly nonsense for the USN.

The USN needs instead most what it despises institutionally and ignored almost entirely post-Cold War: The ability to actually protect maritime trade (especially against submarines, including missile attacks by the same). There's the pretence that it does this, but it doesn't except for very narrow scenarios such as in the Persian Gulf or (marginal effort) against Somali pirates. Mine countermeasures are a notoriously neglected are in the USN as well.

Today's USN is an attack navy, capable of bombing distant countries and invading undefended beaches. It's ship-centric and naval aviation-centric. This is self-reinforcing, as it draws its admirals especially from these backgrounds.

The USN doesn't need a single amphibious warfare ship and not a single additional aircraft carrier. It doesn't need more ship hulls and could very well make do with less ship hulls. What it needs the most is a feasible approach to protect maritime trade against submarines. There are two options for this

  1. aggressive defence: Destroy PLAN submarines in or close to their bases. This requires naval action in proximity to where the PRC's military is the strongest; at and near its bases.
  2. (coastal sea lane protection and oceanic) convoying: Defence against submarine-launched missiles, putting PLAN submarines at great risk when they dare to come within torpedo range.

The latter was mostly about anti-submarine escorts (nowadays we'd say ASW frigates) and escort carriers (nowadays we'd say ASW helicopter carrier) during 1943-1945 and during the Cold War. This approach is not feasible, as shipbuilding in NATO is ridiculously tiny compared to Chinese shipbuilding. Japanese shipbuilding capacity could help out but let's face it; the DoD is not going to pay USD 50+ bn per year on Japanese shipyards for a naval arms race. The same is true regarding South Korea's shipbuilding industry, and it would endanger South Korea too much if it was the cornerstone of a U.:S naval arms race.

Maybe the USN could buy relatively cheap steel hulls (with American gas turbines) in Japan and outfit them with the pricey electronics and missiles in the U.S., but doing this in the required quantities may go well beyond U.S. shipbuilding capacity in the next 10 peacetime years as well. The Allies built hundreds of oceanic escorts during WW2, to secure American trade with Europe, Japan, Australia and through the Panama Canal alone would require hundreds of frigates and dozens of escort carriers as well. Moreover, they better be fast enough to keep the pace of civilian cargo ships, which cruise at 23 kts and more over oceanic distances. This means the frigates would end up being 10,000 tons ships due to the required diesel fuel bunkers.

I say the solution is much more simple, radical and utterly against everything that's holy to USN admirals: The USN should stop building surface warships and instead stockpile containers. It needs the ability to turn hundreds of cargo ships into auxiliary warships (especially for the operation of AEW and ASW VTOL aircraft and for launching AAW and ASW missiles). There should be more than a thousand container sets that provide basic self-protection (threat warning, CIWS, decoys, multispectral smoke) to cargo ships. There should be legislation drafted for buying cargo ships for the USN and U.S. merchant marine in wartime. There should be a contingency plan for the first half year of conflict until the maritime trade protection scheme can be realised. National stockpiles of critical materials are necessary, especially with the commercial just-in-time practices in mind (the economy had about six months worth of raw materials stocks when WW2 started!).

Land-based coastal lane protection schemes can help securing trade along CONUS' coastlines.

more related blog posts:





my huge series (worth 80 book pages) on oceanic convoy protection: