"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: