2017/01/31

Human sacrifice and military spending

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The President of the United States is scheduled to visit a school in Boston, and 250 schoolchildren form up as a choir to sing. He's not terribly interested in singing schoolchildren, so he combines this photo op with a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations.
CNO: About the submarine fleet ...
POTUS: You want that additional submarine.
CNO: Yes, we really need ...
POTUS: I see. Look, here are my secret service agents with their guns. Take their guns, kill the entire stupid choir and you'll get your submarine for free from the shipyard.
CNO: Mr. Presid...
POTUS: Don't worry, I'll pardon you right away.
CNO: That's not my problem with the proposal. We don't do this.
POTUS: You don't kill children to get a submarine?
CNO: Never!
POTUS: You think? Interesting.

- - - - -


A principle in efficient allocation of resources is to get the marginal utility (marginal rate of return) right. In simple terms, this means that if you have 10 coins and four investment options, each costing 5 coins, but yielding 3, 6, 7 and 8 coins return after a month, you better choose to invest only in the 7 and 8 coins return options.
To spend 5 coins to get 3 back is an obvious mistake, but to spend 5 coins to get 6 back is also a mistake if you could get back 7 instead.
Obviously, you cannot invest in the 6, 7 and 8 coin options because your budget is limited.
This is an economic principle; maximise returns for a given budget (ceteris paribus).

The "7 coins return" option in the above case would be the marginal utility; the least return you got for expenditure. It's not the same as the average rate of return, of course.

Likewise, when returns are fixed (say, save one life) and costs vary and you have 10 coins to save lives, with the options to save lives costing 2, 3, 5 and 10 coins then you better not spend 10 coins to save one life, but to save three. To save all four is beyond your budget limit. Your marginal utility should be one life saved for 5 coins.

- - - - -

This is an important concept, for when a legislator allocates public money through his vote on a budget he should understand that if for example the department of health stops paying for medical services when these would cost 5 million $ per life saved then the department of transportation should not spend 10 million $ on road safety per life saved. That's like killing two people by cancer to save one from death by car accident. Both departments should have a common and identical limit and yes, there has to be a limit. We live in a resources-constrained world.

The U.S. government didn't understand or at least didn't apply this, and almost certainly still doesn't, but that's not really the topic here. The topic is human sacrifice and military spending.

An important thing that pacifists usually understand and "pro-military" folks usually don't seem to understand is what I mentioned above and the concept of opportunity costs.

There are opportunity costs to all spending, including to military spending. Whenever you spend USD 2.6 bn on for example a single submarine, you cannot spend this public money on something else any more.

Some may have read the links, others won't, so I'll quote; The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States of America considered the value of a life in 2010 as to be USD 9.1 million (unless it's a VIP, I suppose). So essentially a policy that would cost USD 920 million and would be expected to save 100 lives in the USA would not be considered worth it based on the lifesaving effect alone. This was the higher limit - the Food and Drug Administration had its limit at USD 7.9 million. Both should have the same limit of course.

Let's pick the USD 9.1 million figure. The United States Navy has 59 nuclear attack submarines (SSN) in service. To add another one (or to replace one to avoid dropping to 58) costs about USD 2.6 billion. 2,600/9.1= 285.71
USD 2.6 bn; that's the value of 285 lives.

To buy a single Virginia class SSN is equivalent to not spend on a program to save 285 additional children lives from poor families from cancer or pollution.

Economically it's also equivalent to the following:

In order to get a new Virginia class submarine, 285 school children line up in a parade. The CNO goes to them, unfolds a barbers knife and cuts one children's throat.
And another.
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Finally, he's done.
285 children's lives were sacrificed so the USN can get another SSN.
That's quite a mess!

As a CNO, such an admiral would have no qualms "justifying" that the navy needs another Virginia class submarine. Would he have an as easy life justifying cutting the throat of 285 children?
Certainly not.  

But that's exactly what he should be able to do if he was actually "justifying" the purchase.

I suppose it's obvious by now that the USN cannot really justify the purchase of a new Virginia class submarine. It can only voice its wish for one.
Officers are almost never educated to make such a decision correctly. They are merely educated to implement such decisions. This tells a lot about how much weight their advice on military spending should carry, even before considering the principal-agent problem.

The weighting of pro and contra, including a consideration of the opportunity costs, this enforcement of equal marginal utility of all government departments' pending needs to be done at the political level. Anyone who thinks that a navy or a think tank could possibly come up with a justification for buying a nuclear attack submarine has been fooled or is fooling himself/herself.

So the national government - specifically  the legislative branch which holds the budget authority - should do this, and then the executive branch should implement the budget, always keeping in mind how important the marginal utility is.

That's how it would work in a perfect world, which won't be achieved. It does on the other hand educate us on what's wrong, and HOW wrong it is.

Furthermore, now you have a figure (value of life ~ USD 10 million) that will help you to make sense of the military spending. Those huge figures are otherwise very abstract, without real meaning. What's USD 10 billion? Only a look at opportunity costs can give us an idea of what this means.

related: 

S O


P.S.:
"285 children's lives were sacrificed so the USN can get another SSN." was not mere polemic. This is happening - albeit through neglect, not through barber's knifes. Future generations may consider it to have been no less barbaric.

Maybe you found this piece to be unusually forceful, more confrontational than usual and even politically incorrect. That's because I decided to reframe issues that I have written about in the past already, this time for greater effect. The 'gloves have come off' at least for once. The "pro-more military spending!" crowd lives in a pleasant bubble where they ignore the opportunity costs and instead enjoy fantasies of military power greatness. They don't deserve this comfort.

If you want to read more about an economic theory interpretation of such events, read about "externality"; that will explain to you why a CNO doesn't pay attention to the opportunity costs.
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2017/01/30

Executive Suite (1954) final scene

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This scene is from a 62 years old movie:


I think it's an extremely smart and well-written classic that holds the explanation for the ailments that made a disgruntled "rust belt" tip the scales in November.

It's too sad that people again fell for a liar who blamed foreigners and minorities for homemade problems. This hasn't happened for the first time, the people will pay for their stupidity as in all other cases before, and there will be more cases in the future. It's too bad that history studies are perceived as boring and uninteresting by students and neglected by school authorities.

S O
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2017/01/29

My naiveté

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I've been blogging for almost a decade, eight years of which had substantial visitor traffic. Comments have been allowed for about seven of those years.

Still, after so many years of experience I kept pretending that this works:

1st describe a problem
2nd describe an approach for a solution
3rd preventively counter some likely counter-arguments
4th enjoy agreement

I tell you, step #4 looks like a near-total bust when it comes to strictly military topics. (This isn't only about comments made here.)
There are three obvious explanations; one is that I may be wrong in my diagnosis or prescription, in which case one could hope for a logically coherent counter-argument that shatters my case. Frankly, I've hardly ever recognized this, so either I cannot recognize this when I see it or it does hardly ever happen.

A second possibility is that I may simply fail at step #2 or #3, failing to convince due to poor writing or incomplete logic.

The third obvious explanation is that it's naive to think that a more or less logical argument changes minds.

There actually is research on this; psychological experiments of the past fifty years have shown that humans tend to not change minds when faced with evidence contradicting their belief. The original belief is not easily given up. Sometimes, they attack the evidence, its messenger and become more stern in their belief.

This is a very fundamental issue for this blog, since almost everyone already has an opinion on these topics. Some of my blog posts are meant to explicitly challenge widespread and long-held beliefs about historical events et cetera.
I'm largely alone. There's no array of TV stations, newspapers, journals, websites and bloggers pushing into the same direction. This leaves me to be rather unconvincing by default.

In light of years of experience and five decades of psychological research the only conclusion left is that 'activism' milblogging against the stream doesn't work. This blog matured into a format in which I attracted a readership that's interested in military affairs and then exposed it to moderate pacifism. I've been pointing at deterrence & defence against Russia since 2009 at the latest, but even though the attitude is finally mainstream (and the distraction of occupation warfare largely exhausted) I am seemingly the lone voice among milbloggers world wide in calling for not increasing military spending in Europe. That, of course, is another hopeless proposition because everybody seems to have bought into the conventional wisdom that awakening to the only actual justification for substantial military spending in Europe means that one needs to add spending - instead of reallocating it. To reallocate resources would require to give up things that have grown dear, and nobody want to change one's mind, remember?

I would waste my time if I wrote this blog for a moderate pacifist audience. They're already convinced. Websites written for an audience in agreement serve only as echo chambers, news distributors, as support for organising efforts or as nodes for radicalisation. None of this is what I want to do.

S O
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2017/01/28

Combat in isolation

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This time I offer you an example of what my drats typically look like if they stubbornly refuse progress after months. The following text was begun with one idea in mind, then I wandered off ... and never developed a proper central theme from title to conclusion. It's a mere collection of simple thoughts about one angle. I'm tired to have it in the list of drafts, so here it is. It's lesser quality writing compared to a text of the same size that I would be content with.

Imagine a battlefield that's saturated with electronic countermeasures (ECM): Radio communication is available only when tolerated by the opposition for the purpose of locating the emitter.

How would land warfare look like under such conditions?

I suppose the first reaction would be to employ couriers (in lightweight helicopter, on motorcycle, horse or foot) to issue orders and reports, but this, too, would be unreliable, often observable - and with huge delays compared to radio calls.

Difficult communication over distances
Another reaction would be to use light signals, but flashlight morse comm has been found impractical on the battlefield even before radio sets were available down to individual platoons.*

Pyrotechnical signals have a very small 'bandwidth', even if you assume that subordinates had code sheets for a sequence of coloured star shell signals with dozens or even hundreds of possible meanings. You cannot really call for a specific type of fires on a specific map coordinate with signals from a flare gun.

(There are theoretical options for light-based communication with a decent bandwidth, such as a drone hovering and emitting a binary code with a laser, with the beam widened to cover a defined range of directions where receivers are expected to be. No such thing is in service or available off the shelf so far - AFAIK.)

Consequences
Ground combat itself would need to incorporate indirect fire support at a low level such as company mortars if not platoon mortars (though today many Western armies have no mortars below battalion level). Radio calls for support fires wouldn't work, after all.

Combat units would either need to be able to fight against any threat or even better to elude those threats they cannot face in isolation.

On the bigger picture I suppose that everything would become somewhat slower (more delayed), though subordinates' initiative and at least local aggressive and dashing actions would be prized highly (at least when they succeed). On the other end of the spectrum deliberate actions would look quite as in textbooks, with many hours of preparations prior to execution.
Some command and staff cultures would barely function much of the time, others would collapse too often and too easily unless facing their own.

The reaction to offensive actions would be clumsy if existent at all, which would allow for large raids (movement of task forces hundreds of kilometres through 'hostile' terrain), overrunning support troops, combat troops in bivouac, army aviation units if not air force airfields, supply dumps, blowing up infrastructure and cutting landlines and powerlines.

The troops would need a very different mindset - both combat and support troops. Combat troops would need to think and solve problems at a low level (platoon or company) instead of expecting others (fire support, air force) to solve their problems.
Support troops would need the cohesion and morale to resist rumours plus the attention and resolve to maintain 24/7 360° security and basic self-defence (or evasion) readiness at least against weak threats.

The 'average' soldier would be on a battlefield that doesn't merely look "empty", but he would also feel very, very isolated. Noises of explosions and moving vehicles as well as dust and smoke clouds on the horizon would be the most the troops could sense past their own (small) unit. There would be no radio calls, hardly any news about other units' actions. The officers and couriers who would know a little more would likely not be able to dispel this feeling of isolation and uncertainty. Hostile forces could appear suddenly for no distant friendly forces radio a warning before, and everybody would be strained by the ever-present possibility.

On the other hand audacious and trusted officers could exploit all these factors by daring and aggressive manoeuvres with a compact force that employs a very close recce and security screen.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: Combat from the era before radio sets were available to small units is a poor guide for how it would be done today because of full motorisation and much higher lethality of all arms.
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2017/01/26

Current politics in Germany

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The social-democratic party of Germany (SPD) will soon have a new chairman and candidate for chancellorship. Parties are required by the German constitution (basic law) to follow principles of democracy (Art.21(1)). This requires them to elect a chairman if there is such a party office, but in SPD, CDU, CSU, FDP and maybe even Die Linke and the greens this is a mere theory. Party offices get distributed by "top" politicians, and the low-ranking party members are supposed to elect the chosen one in an uncontested election. The question is merely how many do so. 80% is considered to be a signal of distrust by the party base, and anything up to about 90% gets widely interpreted as a signal that the politician did anger the party base in some way.

That's not exactly a description of democratic inner workings of parties, and may very well be a reason for why they are hardly able to adapt and reform; the small clique of "top" politicians have all the power, and any real party reform would have to  begin with removing them. They don't remove themselves, though - biology does. They only rotate offices between themselves. The SPD chairman of the past years is now supposed to become minister of foreign affairs, without having any noteworthy competence in this field. But that's no obstacle - after all, he had no particular competence to show for his current government office (minister of economic affairs) either. Everyone seems to assume that he wants the other office because politicians usually get popular and liked in it.

OK, that was the civil liberties and democracy ("freedom" ) part. Now let's look at the "defence" part of the story:

The pre-determined next chairman is Martin Schulz, a career politician known for his chairmanship at the EU parliament. He's part of the party's right wing, and this means a lot, since the party has shed its left wing (it deserted to the party Die Linke) a decade ago as a consequence of the non-social democratic policies under the SPD's right wing chairman Schröder. He's right wing in a party that consists of what used to be its right wing, and they're in a governing coalition with a slightly more right wing conservative party, the CDU. So the SPD is practically guaranteed to not turn to the left any time soon, but rather to become even more similar to the CDU. I strongly suspect that this is idiotic politics, for it practically guarantees an election defeat. Nobody needs a SPD that's hardly distinguishable from the CDU.

Moreover, Schulz is a European unification ideologist. Such people - let's call them "EUIs" - are extremists in their preference for international cooperation with all but a handful bad guy states.* Many EUI politicians also seem to be hawks regarding the bad guy states, eager to get the EU and/or NATO to bomb some other country together. Emphasis on "together" - that's more important to the EUIs than the bombs themselves. Their ideology is bipolar - cooperate and nothing but cooperation among friends and people you want to be friends with, including cooperation in extreme confrontation against people they feel no sympathy for.

So in the - incredibly unlikely if not impossible - case that the SPD wins the next election and leads a governing coalition with Schulz as chancellor we could expect to see almost no noteworthy reforms in domestic policies, but a lot of the EUI agenda in action. It's a bit difficult to predict an interaction of EUIs with Drumpf, though. On the one hand EUIs are "Transatlantiker" (preferring European-American harmony and cooperation), but on the other hand they're so only if it's not at the expense of the EU, and Drumpf is known to dislike the EU (and presumably all international win-win cooperation).

Meanwhile, the official German conservatives (CDU and CSU, politically ~ New England "liberals" and Texan "liberals") will have to decide how to fend off the attacks by the anti-internationalistic AfD, which is somewhat anti-EU (at least anti-Euro currency) and somewhat xenophobic, with an obvious infiltration by those closet neonazis who never quite joined the obvious neonazi parties. This may change the EU-related and immigration-related policies of the official conservative parties.

So what's in all of this regarding common "security" policy or common "defence" policy of the EU?
In any case the only EU nuclear power left is France, and they'll have their own presidential election. It's unlikely that much of anything in regard to the EU happens in France until that election, and if Le Pen wins the presidency there might even be an unofficial 'Franxit' - with the French government likely being unable to leave the EU, but wholly able to bring it to a full stop.
Let's assume that the French conservatives win the election instead, and so do the German ones. I suppose in that case everything is possible in regard to further European unification efforts, but most likely those policies will happen early on that were so far blocked mostly or only by the UK.
I don't think there will be real EU army prior to 2030, though. Maybe some symbolic 'EU rapid reaction corps' nonsense, but hardly anything real.

One thing might be feasible due to Drumpf, though; we Europeans might kick the Americans out of SHAPE and reinvent it as a wholly European headquarters, with Americans, Canadians and maybe even British officers as mere liaison officers. That might be politically feasible, fairly simple organisationally and almost for free. I doubt it would happen without Drumpf withdrawing or announcing to withdraw all American forces from Europe, though.
 
S O

*: I dislike their almost perfect inability to admit design faults, overreach and other imperfections of the EU or other European unification projects. The marginal inability to correct mistakes is the single biggest problem in the EU and the Euro currency. Well, to be fair, the Euro currency in itself is a design fault and a result of EUI dreaming that perfectly disregarded the economic theory of the optimum currency area as well as all economic history lessons about the devastating fixed exchange rate regimes.
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The utility of nuclear attack submarines

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I'm on record being no great fan of sea power as we know it, and befitting this background I'll take a contra view on nuclear attack submarines:

Nuclear attack submarines (SSN) are among the most expensive warships due to their size, their nuclear reactor and the market forms (only one or two suppliers per country that feel safe in the knowledge that the government wants to sustain them as strategic industry). A Virginia-Class SSN costs more than USD 2.5 billion, that's about as much as six more stealthy Type 214 submarines with air-independent propulsion.

The submarine fans and branches pretend that submarines are good for much, but their qualities are really mostly in killing other nuclear-powered submarines or surface ships other than really good ASW ships.
Special forces delivery and recovery is an extremely rare activity (the last notable examples were beach reconnaissance ahead of amphibious landings by divers in 1944/45).
The submarines' numbers are quite insufficient for playing much of a role in air crew rescue at sea (an important submarine task in the Pacific War).
What little reconnaissance and espionage such submarines do usually serves mostly themselves (recording sound profiles of warships, for example).
Land attack with cruise missiles launched from a submarine is almost expensive way to hit such targets because such encapsulated submarine launched missiles cost roughly twice as much as air-launched or (surface) shipborne cruise missiles.

Thus I'll pretend here that nuclear attack submarines are almost all about destroying ships, for their other capabilities matter little in wartime.

USS California SSN-781

The ability to destroy ships is not an exclusive one; air power can actually engage surface targets better with missiles (such as a combination of anti-radar and anti-ship missile attack, followed-up with heavy laser-guided bombs to sink a damaged ship), and it can do so over a very large maritime area and quickly. A submarine needs to be fairly close tot eh target unless it launches missiles at a distant target based on third party target data.

The submarines' exclusive capabilities are thus all about
  1. hitting ships or submarines with heavyweight torpedoes
  2. strikes in areas denied to friendly naval and air power (including under ice)
  3. only underwater ASW unit capable of cruising at high speed
Torpedo strikes are very, very difficult to judge. We know for certain that a single torpedo hit has a devastating effect on mid-sized warships if not all kinds of warships (see test on a small frigate type here).
On the other hand, modern guided torpedoes were never used in combat to good effect. The British sunk a WW2 vintage cruiser in the Falklands War with a SSN, but it used WW2 vintage torpedoes for this. The Argentinians used a then-modern non-nuclear submarine with guided torpedoes, but technical malfunctions kept it from hitting anything (and it possibly attacked false contacts anyway).
Heavyweight torpedoes might be total duds against 1980's and newer warships due to their countermeasures; the public wouldn't know, and even the navies may be limited to knowing how well their own countermeasures and countermeasures of friendly navies work against their own torpedoes.

Strikes in areas denied to other friendly forces is a hot topic for "underdog" navies, as these often times cannot do much else than defensive minelaying and submarine patrols without suffering from excessive attrition rates. This isn't what the SSN operators are really paying much attention to, though. Instead, SSN are supposed to engage hostile naval forces (and especially SSBN) where other assets can't, even though said other assets can cover huge maritime areas.*

This leads to a very high level question: Should SSBN (submarines with missiles to attack land targets  with thermonuclear warheads) be attacked in wartime, or even only be threatened in peacetime?

The intuitive answer is to wish for the ability to knock out the potentially hostile SSBN in order to eliminate a terrible threat. A single SSBN is typically powerful enough to ruin an entire country. A single Delta IV SSBN may unleash the power of 64 or more 100 kt TNTeq-rated thermonuclear warheads, eliminating dozens of inner cities. That's like all the deaths of the First World War caused in thirty minutes and focused on one country.

A less intuitive answer serves navy bureaucracy interests much less: You cannot reliably eliminate all such SSBNs. That's the main part of their sales pitch, after all.
Detected attempts to gain that ability will provoke countermeasures. The worst of this is that to threaten what's known as "second (nuclear) strike ability" (the ability to attack with nukes after your country was attacked with nukes) may provoke the hostile political leadership into considering or even actually ordering a preventive first strike.
This really, really bad case scenario didn't happen during the Cold War, of course. Yet how could one possibly claim that the maintained ability to engage SSBNs with SSNs was of any use throughout the Cold War? There's no way how this serves to prevent rather than provoke nuclear war, and evidently nuclear attack submarines never destroyed SSBNs for real.

I am convinced that SSBNs should under no circumstances be threatened, so their political leadership never feels that its second strike capability is in question.

There is one more exclusive ability of nuclear-powered submarines; they can cruise at the same speed as surface convoys and are thus the only submerged units that can help the ASW effort of convoys. The SSN needs to be at considerable depth to do so, for otherwise the combination of required speed and depth (water pressure) may lead to treacherous (loud) supercavitation at the screw. Noise is generally an issue with this method of escorting; a threat submarine may sit idle in the water of move very slow and very silently on battery power only, while the SSN (with equal technology SSN are louder than conventional submarines) needs to maintain a quite high speed of 15 or more knots for most of the time. The escorting SSN is inherently disadvantaged against a threat SSI. Furthermore, the SSN's odds of actually detect a threat are marginal, especially considering the effective range of modern torpedoes and submarine-launched anti-ship missiles (20 and more nautical miles). Their range leads to a very long circumference around the convoy at which pickets would be needed to reliably detect threat submarines before they can attack the convoy. There's hardly ever more than two SSN even with a carrier battlegroup.
A SSN may literally pass by a hostile SSI at a nautical mile distance of less without detecting it. So I conclude that this "SSN as ASW escort" concept (which was really only applied with USN carrier battlegroups as far as I know) is terribly cost-inefficient.

- - - - -

So what was or is the utility of SSNs?
They did, do and could do a myriad of things that could have been done cheaper with other naval (and especially air power) assets. That's about it. It's very little utility compared to the extreme expenses.
A modern non-nuclear submarine (SSI) is already a very expensive unit. The usually much bigger SSNs have always been extremely expensive. Extremely expensive units require a clear and preferably obvious raison d'être. SSNs don't have it.

S O

*: Which begs the question; what is it worth to have a handful of submarines this far from friendly bases that friendly, midair-refuelled strike aircraft cannot engage them with a reasonable mission profile?Why care about targets that far away at all?
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2017/01/24

Radius around a point on earth

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There's a nice internet tool which draws circles around a point on a map. Normal paper maps always have distortions so drawing a perfect circle on them doesn't represent an actual radius on the real earth. This is what happens if you draw a circle of 11,100 km with its centre on the Great Lakes:

source link

Now why would ANYONE draw such a radius around the Great Lakes?


hint #1: 11,100 km is the unconfirmed range of Trident II SLBMs*

hint #2: the area of the Great Lakes is 241.106 square kilometres

hint #3: only the USA and its ally Canada can access the Great Lakes with warships or helicopters

S O

P.S: The PR China has likely less than 200 nuclear warheads deployed. 200 non-SLBM nuclear warheads would be plenty deterrence against it.

*: I've seen the figure of 12,000 km as well.
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2017/01/21

42° elevation tank turrets

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There's a twin autoloader 120 mm mortar turret called AMOS that captivated the imagination and fascination of AFV fans for a decade or so. I was never a fan of it, not the least because of its price tag of € 2+ million for the turret alone.



It doesn't use standard munitions and its supposedly impressive rate of fire of up to 16 rounds per minute from two barrels combined is exactly the maximum rate of fire given for a single ordinary towed, manually operated mortar tube of the same calibre.
Meanwhile, twin tubes is massive overkill for direct fires on ground targets. 

By the way, the Swedish army is adding new CV90-based mortar vehicles soon, and they're not going to use AMOS, mostly because it's too expensive.

I think the way to go for 120 mm self-propelled mortars isn't a super-expensive AFV, but pretty much the standard APC with roof opened and a turntable with automatic tube laying for a (exchangeable) manually muzzle-loaded 81 or 120 mm mortar tube. Essentially what we've had during the Cold War, modernised with CARDOM. The real advance in indirect mortar fires of the past 30 years has been automatic tube laying, after all. This enables higher rates of fire and slightly more complicated fire missions such as MRSI or shooting rounds in optimised impact point patterns at short ranges.

Mortars fired from opened rooftops always shoot in the upper register, above about 43° elevation. This is high angle fire and many people appear to believe that it's unsuitable for direct fire. It's not; direct high angle fire is possible. Moving targets and vertical target objects (such as most walls) are  unsuitable for high angle fires, that's all.

So there's this idea that direct fire capability is valuable for a mortar carrier, and I largely disagree. Direct fire by a mortar carrier should be a last resort for self-defence or defence of nearby forces that badly need direct fire assistance in their defence. Multi million Euro AFVs that are indispensable in the indirect fires role will not be sent into voluntary direct fire combat missions often in actual combat anyway. Any such concept is bound to be limited to anecdotal direct fire actions.

- - - - -

There is a case that can be made for a hybrid AFV, of course. Imagine some mobile army unit operating in rural areas of Africa. It could have 81 mm mortars for illumination and short range indirect fires and some AFVs with 105 mm guns capable of dealing with everything but post-1977 tanks. Two such mobile units may operate together, always ready to assist each other by fires, medical care or manoeuvre and subsequent line of sight combat. Surely, those forces would not refuse having some additional indirect fires capability without adding any vehicles?

The answer to such needs (and many scenarios in mountainous regions) is already available, and it's not AMOS. Cockerill has (had for years) light and medium tank turrets on offer that allow a 105 mm high pressure gun to shoot at up to 42° elevation. I was unable to get an answer on why the range is still limited to 10 km in their data sheets (should be more like 18-23 km with that gun, that angle, HE shell* and full charge), but 10 km is the range given for some of AMOS' munitions as well.

Back when I first contemplated writing this article I meant to write about the Cockerill CT-CV 105HP turret, but this appears to have been superseded by the XC-8-105-120HP turret. The changes appear to be about layout (sensors etc.) and the inclusion of the 120 mm tank gun option.



I'd love to bash their marketing for three reasons, but I won't because I'm using their photos here.

The current XC-8something turret is about the same, also with 10 km indirect fires range. These turrets have a bustle-mounted autoloader, but I still suppose that semi-fixed rounds could enable it to serve as auxiliary SPGs at times. The rate of fire wouldn't be extreme, but I suppose munitions resupply is a much bigger issue anyway.

XC-8 105-120HP turret
I have an interest in such dual use turrets for multiple reasons. A marginal reason is a theoretical anti-air capability, and another marginal reason is an irrational technology fascination, but the main motivator is that this makes tanks potentially useful during much more of the time.

Tanks are usually employed in either movement/assault or overwatch, and most of the rest of the time their crews are either resting, reloading or doing maintenance work. This is fine in most doctrines, though the quantity of videos showing tanks hit by missiles in Syria and Yemen while they're stationary and apparently on overwatch duty is appalling. Tanks on routine overwatch duty should be in a fully concealed position with a separate (or mast) sensor in operation (or at most the sensors mounted on top of the turret showing). Hull down positions are acceptable only for short times during which the crews can be attentive enough to react to incoming missiles in time, preferably with engine on idle.

My studies of operational art have led to my opinion that delaying missions should be the most common missions for ground combat forces, and might be central to "winning" a campaign. Furthermore, I concluded that tank forces should not be in the first layer of delaying efforts, and the powerful bulk of tank forces shouldn't be in the second layer either. Even when the main tank forces enter combat it shouldn't necessarily be the classic heavy cavalry-like tank charge, or even only the more realistic and historical advance into line of sight firing positions. It would be very nice if they were useful without line of sight as well.

It's near-impossible to synchronise mobile operations so well that two tank battalions or companies could converge on one hostile force and come into line of sight at about the same time. A battle between two tank companies could be over in seconds or minutes, so a second converging company might be of no use in this. (This is different from multi-axis ambush situations such as the L-shaped ambush.) To converge forces on one target force makes sense at the higher level to overpower the defensive capacity, but at company level it's too difficult to get the timing right, particularly if the opposing force manoeuvres unpredictably.
Now imagine the second tank company made it to within 3 km, but has no line of sight. It could at least give indirect fire support if it had this capability.

The high angle firepower will be more attractive to most people in the context of actions in mountainous areas and urban areas, of course. You can think about such situations by thinking about a single tank, and any hypothetical scenario that works on such an elemental basis is more accessible and convincing by default.

Now don't get me wrong; I don't claim that the XC-8-something turret with its many expensive electronics (gunner's thermal, commander's thermal, laser warner etc) for duel situations would end up costing less than an AMOS turret. It's a direct fire (duel) turret with some indirect fire capability. AMOS is an indirect fire turret with some direct fire capability. My point is that the widespread fascination with AMOS is irrational, and a direct fire turret with some indirect fire capability is a more sensible concept. Indirect fires capability with a little direct fire capability can be had relatively cheaply; combine a 120 mm mortar with CARDOM and a folding roof APC that can withstand the firing shocks.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

P.S.: Don't get me started on AMOS as tank killer due to STRIX. It's not. STRIX can defeat stationary tanks, but the footprint (the area it is looking at to find a target) is so very tiny that it's all but useless against any but stationary tanks.

Furthermore, I understand that the 105 mm gun's rifling may  be an issue for the variable propellant charges in semi-fixed rounds. Dispersion am be worse than with an optimised SPG gun design with some charge strengths.

*: They don't tell about HE cartridges as one of the cartridge types for those turrets.
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2017/01/20

Naval kites

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DARPA is a U.S. military research agency meant to think ahead, experimenting on inventions and innovations of the generation after the next one. Back in October I mentioned their TALONS program because it finally offered some graphics and an example of using a towed aerial sensor platform for naval ships.
An earlier and quite famous example was the Fa 330 Bachstelze, a super lightweight one-man autogyro used by German submarines in WW2.

Well, I have gotten access to a book called "The History of the Fleet Air Arm" in the meanwhile, and it turned out that Bachstelze is in no way an early example. Back in 1903 the Royal navy tested kites by some Mr. Samuel Franklin Cody, an inventor, and there were favourable reports about it. More experiments happened in 1907. The problem at the time was apparently the issue of safety in other than very stable wind conditions.

So it's safe to say that TALONS is yet another example of U.S. military-industrial complex pretending to be inventive and innovative when it's not really such a thing. I've seen this happen many times (including pretending that adopting a foreign developed hardware is their own development), which in part may be due to their very large R&D budgets and in part a deliberate attempt to avoid the NIH issue.


related:

S O
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2017/01/17

The operational level of warfare (II)


From part I:

The operational level of warfare
encompasses actions that facilitate the defeat of the resources for the war effort of the opposing powers. This does not include preparations for a combat engagement by forces later engaged or meant to join it.

With the definition done, let's look at the usefulness of the concept of the operational level of warfare.

- - - - -

A typical accusation against the operational level of warfare is that it's merely grand tactics, tactics for corps or army commanders. Not that much different from tactics of battalion leaders and below.
There is actually a gradual change of how important certain tasks are at different levels. From every level to another from private to commander in chief certain tasks and aspects of the job become less important or even unimportant (such as taking cover in time is unimportant to most generals) while other aspects are added and grow in importance with every level gained. Allocation of resources, for example. I reject the aforementioned accusation because if accepted it would delegitimate the entire idea of levels of warfare, mixing both tactical and strategic into one mess. There's no more clear cut between "strategic" and "tactical" than between "enlisted" and "NCO". The accusation is thus not consistent with a preference for a tactical/strategic idea of levels of warfare without an operational level.

The idea of different levels of warfare makes sense. Let me give an example:
When studying a plant, a zoologist may look at certain characteristics used to classify the plant. A DNA expert would look at the DNA. A chemist may look at the organic compounds present. A painter may look at the colour palette. All of them focus on one angle, and ignore everything else even though it's still present. This allows them to gain clarity at least about one angle at a time. A DNA expert could wonder what would happen if a certain gene was replaced, and being burdened with thoughts about whether the plant has flat or deep roots would serve him no purpose.

The concept of different levels of warfare does exactly that: It allows us to look at the aspects of warfare that are the most interesting. Sure, a squad leader does a little resource management, but when we're talking about tactics we don't pay much attention to it. A corps commander is still concerned about whether the corps' anti-tank tactics are up to date, but when we talk of operational level of warfare we're more interested in movement of formations logistics, deception. A supreme headquarter is still be concerned about technical training schedule issues, but when we talk of strategic level of warfare we're rather interested in arms production, finance, manpower, convincing the other power to yield et cetera.

- - - - -

So what's so interesting about the operational level of warfare?

The operational level of warfare
encompasses actions that facilitate the defeat of the resources for the war effort of the opposing powers. This does not include preparations for a combat engagement by forces later engaged or meant to join it.
The best practice in warfare is no doubt to fight unfairly, in order to "win" in combat. This is not all about what you do in combat, but mostly about what you do before combat. The preparations for the specific fight by the involved forces themselves belong to the tactical level according to my definition. To set up an ambush is tactics, for example.

Preparations by other forces on the other hand belong to the operational level. The air force may have bombed a bridge, thus slowing hostile reserves so much that they don't reinforce the opposing forces in a battle. That's very different in nature from the tactics of the forces involved, but clearly not strategic either.

This level is of great interest because it appears to be neglected, despite the intense interest that has lasted for decades - and maybe in part because detractors deny its existence.

What we saw in 1991 wasn't so bad, though simple. The opposing forces weren't attacking much, and the one attempt was defeated by a concentrated effort. So one side spend about 20 days preparing for battles to come by softening the opposing forces mostly with air attacks. It would have been stupid to advance right away, seeking battles quickly. Army leaders first manoeuvred trying to gain an advantage before accepting or forcing battle in earlier ages as well. Suvorov was a notable exception; he trusted in having an advantage if and by striking very early.

Attempts to "win" wars by manoeuvre alone without any battle or siege were ridiculed, and likely so for good reason. Those who came the most close were defeated by armies that paid more attention to strength at battle, sought battles and got them. Mastery at the operational level does not mean much if you are much inferior at the tactical level. You need to differentiate between both to see this clearly, of course.

I do suspect the greatest potential for improvement for Western land forces at the operational-level. Have a look at current force structures in the West and you'll see that combat forces are a small minority, the vast majority of troops are support troops. Yet those boots on the ground that serve to prepare for battles that they are not supposed to take part in is still tiny, for most of those support forces are organic or "rear" support, not "forward", operational-level support.
Electronic warfare, armoured reconnaissance and long range scout units are a tiny minority in modern land forces. All-too often reconnaissance was replaced with what's rather forward observation assets. Long range scouts are confined to elitist "special forces". They lack the numbers for theatre-saturating rather than mere anecdotal employments.
We're looking at combat forces and their combat support (artillery, air defence, organic recce etc.) and non-combat support (workshops, signal, supply, military intelligence etc.). This looks fine from the perspective of the combat troops who may despair about their feeble numbers, but enjoy information, support fires, supplies, functioning equipment and receive messages from headquarters.
Indeed, the arsenal is awesome in quality from their point of view - that's the tactical point of view.
The strategic point of view looks rather disappointing at the strategic level, for all-too often strategic objectives are simply not met or met only after incredibly expensive efforts. We became used to our strengths on the strategic level (industrial capacity, plenty allies) and despair about our inability to translate resources allocation into the desired or at least desirable political outcomes. Again, from this perspective it's hard to arrive at the same conclusions as with acceptance of the third, the operational level of warfare. This is even more emphasised since the operational level of warfare becomes difficult to discern in occupation warfare or seemingly haphazard bombing campaigns.

You do need the theoretical construct, the idea, of an operational level of warfare to see the room for improvement and the need for improvement regarding the preparation for battle by forces that do not and shall not engage in said battle.


Sadly, those who do not see an operational level of warfare and prefer to excuse away everything that goes beyond tactics but isn't quite strategy as "operational art" only do show the need for that third, intermediate level. Only once you look from its perspective do you see its usefulness. They can't see it because they refuse (or failed) to assume this point of view. This goes a long way explaining why the critique of the operational level of warfare as an idea is so persistent. No doubt, the non-believers will see circular reasoning in this, but you don't understand what you don't understand.

I will go on seek insights on the operational level of warfare, though I must admit there are strongly diminishing returns from studying more military history examples and analogies as well as from trying to be creative.

S O
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2017/01/12

The operational level of warfare (I)

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There are two schools of thought about how to divide military theory.
One distinguishes the tactical level of combat and the strategic level, at which everything else happens.
The other school distinguishes another level, the operational level of warfare.

The operational level of warfare offers a framework for thinking about campaigns, that is a series of tactical-level events, even if said campaign stands no chance of winning a war (against at least one power) in itself. The English campaign in the Iberian peninsula during the Napoleonic wars, for example. Or the German Afrikafeldzug, which wouldn't have the won against the British Empire even if it had reached and blocked the Suez Canal.

I have brought forward some ideas that are standing way outside of these two schools of thought (such as this one). I'm still -unlike some people I am or was in contact with - a supporter of the concept of an operational level of warfare.

It seems one needs to convince in two steps to support the concept against sceptics:
  1. Define the levels
  2. Show that separating them like this provides a net benefit
Step One shall be the topic of this article. Ignore my earlier attempt at doing step two.
Step One the much easier and smaller step, but irritatingly there doesn't seem to be a concise, generally accepted definition for the operational level of warfare. So I feel free to contribute my own proposal for a definition:

The tactical level of warfare
encompasses the actions during a combat engagement and the preparations for the specific fight by the forces who are or are meant to become involved.

The strategic level of warfare
encompasses the warring powers' bolstering and maintaining of the political will to fight and the provision of resources (including manpower) for the war effort. It also encompasses actions that seek to reduce the opposing powers' ability to provide these resources, but it does not include efforts to move the provided resources to battle or to interfere with this movement.

Finally, what's in between the two:

The operational level of warfare
encompasses actions that facilitate the defeat of the resources for the war effort of the opposing powers. This does not include preparations for a combat engagement by forces later engaged or meant to join it.
As far as I can tell my main accomplishment here are to define the upper border with a look at resources and the lower border without insisting on the existence of relevant campaign plans.
I also avoided talking of battles or series thereof, so these definitions fit for small, low intensity conflicts as well. My definitions that work as stand-alone (as definitions always should), not defining any level as "everything else in warfare" or dependent on further definitions. Finally, I paid attention to using the more accurate word "warfare" instead of "war".

I did not really change the meaning of the levels by trying to define them. What I defined here is what I observed as the meaning of the terms as used in literature. The use of the term "operational level of wear(fare)" is much more homogeneous than one would expect from a term that lacks a widely accepted definition.

- - - - -

Hardly any definition outside of nature's sciences is perfect.
What, for example is the level of war of an air attack on a munitions factory that doesn't only destroy machinery, but also some finished munitions (resources of war)? Is it a strategic or operational in nature? I suppose in such cases one should judge oneself; I would consider such an attack strategic in nature because the effect is almost certainly greater regarding the provision of resources than defeat thereof. It would be different if a shipyard was hit and an almost-finished supercarrier was turned to crap in the process. That would be an operational level attack (at least ex post), as the production capacity lost is a much less severe loss than that of the almost finished ship.

Another clarification, this time regarding "manpower for the war effort". This includes both workers and combatants. An attack on workers is a strategic attack, while an attack on combatants is a tactical one.** Again, in mixed cases the more severe aspect is the dominant one.

- - - - -

My super-shortened version of the definitions would be like
tactical level - facing deployed and employed military power
operational level - trying to deploy military power better
strategic level - trying to be able to deploy and employ more military power

That's not all-unhelpful for understanding and clarity, but I suppose it's too concise for most interested people.

- - - - -

Still, there are definitions of the operational level of war (fare), and I will link to some:

Most unhelpful are Wikipedia


Instead of defining what the  article's headline is (operational level of war) wikipedia quotes a U.S. DoD definition for operational art.

The current U.S. DoD definition for "operational level of war" is
"The level of war at which campaigns and major operations are  planned, conducted, and sustained  to achieve strategic objectives within theaters or other operational areas."
They kept changing the definition. Earlier versions were in FM 100-5.

The Free Dictionary has an unnecessarily bloated and detailed definition that distracts from the essence:

An article that mentions an Australian official definition that's IMO unhelpful as well*:

Another article, rather with descriptions than concise definitions:

- - - - -

None of this has the power to convince those who prefer the tactical/strategic division to adopt the operational level of war concept. That requires also part two, the (2nd) attempt to show the usefulness of the concept. This isn't in draft stage yet, so don't expect it this month.


S O

* Luttwak gets mentioned there. IIRC he added a technical and a grand strategy level. The technical level has some relevance as it should educate armed forces leaders about how to exploit temporary technical superiority before the countermeasures reduce or eliminate them. Grand strategy is IMO for policy and peacetime, not for armed forces.
**: This could include a propaganda campaign that makes workers flee the country or be demotivated, as well as motivate soldiers to desert.

 
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2017/01/06

Stating the obvious about Russia's economy and military

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Russia's economic and thus fiscal strength of the past years was ludicrously based on the oil price. A look at their exports shows that Russia's economy is competitive in exports of natural resources, refined natural resources and, apparently, gas turbines. This infographic shows the composition of Russian exports in 2014:

source: oec
A low oil price means a weak Russia, thus a tight Russian government budget and thus not enough money for ambitious military modernisation or expansion plans. Russia is in a recession right now and both the crude oil price and the Western reactions to the Crimea aggression are the most likely reasons for this recession.

The oil price is rising again (for now), but it's still at a somewhat normal level as opposed to the unusually high levels of 2014.

source: trading economics

The fiscal effects are delayed, of course. Russia has annual budgets like all countries, so there's about one of lag from that interval + many expenses are for orders that are to be fulfilled over several years, which smooths military spending over time. There's also the option of using deficit spending. The effect of the recent moderate oil prices have certainly not yet had their full impact on the Russian military.

The dependence on the oil price does have an irresistible effect on the Russian military in the long term, though. Putin's economic policy incompetence (or outright preference for kleptocracy over a strong economy) maintains a ceiling beyond which Russian military power cannot grow without some form of mobilisation.

This is on the one hand reassuring, for it means that Russia stands no chance against the EU in terms of military spending capability, and on the other hand it points at a possible grand strategy for containment of Russia: Keep their power small by keeping the oil price low. This is nothing like the map-painting nonsense of classical geostrategy, but it's bound to be effective if pulled off.

The problem - and ultimately the reason why Russia had a military power spring recently - is that despite all our other, even move pressing, reasons that make us Westerners prefer low oil prices (well, maybe save for Norwegians,  Scotsmen and Texans), we still lived through the recent period of high crude oil prices.

We truly could reap many parallel benefits if only we get the crude oil issue under control. 
Now how very much tree-hugging do all the electrical car fans look again?*

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: I'm not really a big electric car proponent. Personally I hope for a mix of battery- and hydrogen internal combustion engine-powered motor vehicles in 2030's motor vehicle production. What matters in the context of this blog post is that all those counter-climate change and counter-fossil fuel burning emissions activists may actually do more for Western defence on the really grand scale than for example marines.
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2017/01/03

Russian hacking; still not proved

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The U.S. government released a report to prove that the Russian government was hacking, and apparently (I'm no IT security expert, so I rely on others) this is no more convincing than the infamous Iraqi WMD claims.

The attribution of hacking is almost impossible if the hacker isn't careless or incompetent. Nowadays you can use open wifi to access the internet. You can disrupt tracebacks by transmitting data in part through a 'private' directional radio communication to another computer that's connected to the hacker only by one time pad encrypted messages routed to various countries whose governments are not really cooperating with traceback requests.

So essentially you need multiple defectors or whistleblowers - insiders who give away the secret identity of the hacker.

- - - - -

Personally, I don't doubt that teh Russian government is doing espionage, sabotage and manipulation through the internet.
it is a matter of principle to not believe a liar without solid evidence, though. The U.S. govenrment and in particular its intelligence services were exposed as liars too many times to be considered reliable sources. I don't hold the bar up very high; I don't believe the German government in regard to Russian hacking either. I believe the Russian overnment does hack, but I do not trust Western intelligence services' allegations.
These intelligence services serve first and foremost themselves, second they serve the political leadership. To serve the citizens is an odd idea to them. No doubt their personnel would disagree, but I think that's a problem of lacking self-awareness.

- - - - -

Now what should we (Western countries) do in this affair?

  • We could simply defend and endure whatever attacks bypass our defences. This is in itself a highly unsatisfactory (and politically unsustainable ) option.
  • We could retaliate and be lucky enough to hit the right address. How could this possibly succeed? We cannot attribute attacks properly, so we wouldn't even learn if and when retaliation had convinced the offending government to cease its attacks. Much more likely we would enter a spiral of escalations.
  • We could retaliate and be unlucky enough to hit the wrong address. Oops. Sadly, we wouldn't even notice our mistake.

- - - - -

Maybe there is a way out. We could "retaliate" with something that's not offensive in itself, but rather something we could and may should do anyway. A government in Moscow lost a cultural war before*; we could defeat one such government again in a competition of quality of life.
That would happen to benefit us directly.


S O

*: The Soviet Union lost the Cold War much more sdue to economic reasons and a long-hidden political brittleness than to the appeal of Jeans and McDonalds, but the attractiveness of Western life was most disconcerting to the East german governemnt. Nowadays most Russians are exposed to seeing how life is in the West as the East Germans whoe were able to receive West German TV stations.
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