Ukraine worst (really bad) case scenario

Putin has allegedly made remarks about being able to conquer Kiev in two weeks, and Western news jumped on it.

This highlights one worst case scenario for the Ukraine conflict; the West might decide to not allow the Ukrainians to lose, but without kicking out the Russians itself.

This wouldn't be a new pattern:
It happened already in the Yugoslavian Civil War, when the Muslim Bosnians and Sarajevo in general were not allowed to lose. They lacked the means to win with what little support they received from the West, so the war grew old and ugly.
The same was repeated in Libya, when the rebels were not allowed to lose, even with a UN mandate. The West had to be involved directly to keep them from losing, so it grew impatient and ultimately through mission creep it turned the endeavour into decisive anti-regime support.
The Western powers again did not like the idea of rebels losing in Syria, but this time it didn't need to be involved so much, and remained patient.

The same pattern of not allowing the preferred civil war faction to lose was already attempted in 1991 when no-fly zones were established over Southern and Northern Iraq, but the meddling was still too inexperienced and the amount of effort required to keep the Shiite rebels from losing was greater than anticipated. Eventually, they lost - but the American right wing never forgave this and reversed the fortunes a decade later.

Now how could the West keep the Ukraine from losing, thereby keeping that stupid civil war going for years and creating an huge, decades-lasting rift between Ukrainians and Russians?
The intro pointed at it; don't allow Putin to capture Kiev. A single brigade of Western troops protecting Kiev in addition to supplying weapons, vehicles, tools and ammunitions of war could keep the nonsense going for years.

I fear this may happen, for it would fit into Western great power gaming patterns of behaviour very well.



So depressing


The Scorpion prototype (Textron AirLand)

Q: How long did it take to develop the Scorpion?

[Bill Anderson, President of Textron AirLand]: Starting from a clean sheet design on 9 January 2011 to the first flight took 23 months. I literally started with an empty building, nine people and a white board. On the commercial side, time is money. If it had taken ten years to build, then it would have cost you $40m. It took us less than two years and you can buy it for $20m. The airplane uses high but mature technology.

He didn't even mention how much taxpayer money would have been milked from software development and production preparation AFTER the prototype was assembled.



If Western great power gaming wasn't so incompetent

One of the extra reasons for opposing Western great power gaming is the West's incompetence at it. The Americans messed so many great power games, we've become used to it. The war of aggression against Panama with its rather fine aftermath (save for the dead and maimed people, of course) is a pleasant exception. Just look at the IS/ISIS mess, a consequence of the war of aggression against Iraq!

 The West's dealing with the Ukrainian territorial crisis is no different. again, incompetence abounds.

I've offered rather diplomatic strategies and some observations on the conflict before

now here's a great power gaming strategy for it. I'm not in favour of great power games, so this is not a recommendation (would be a few months too late for it anyway), but an example meant to show how relatively inept the West is at these games. Obama, Merkel, Hollande are playing a league or two below Putin in these affairs (and Erdogan appears to be disinterested).

So this was for the situation at the end of the Crimean secession, when it became obvious Putin was having designs for Eastern Ukraine, too:

Putin/Russia is understood to try to grab some continental Ukrainian territory while the new government in Kiev is still incapable of decisive resistance.
Economic sanctions and the like were probably if not certainly factored into Putin's deliberations already, and can be dismissed as non-decisive for this reason. Something unanticipated is needed for additional deterrence effect.

Why not force Putin to lose two long-running great power games as the price for merely trying to play a great power game in the Eastern Ukraine?
Get Turkey and Georgia to agree with your strategy, then concentrate air and (suitable) land power in Turkey, threatening to move into Georgia, defeat the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to kick out the Russian 'peacekeepers' there. Make sure Putin believes this by adding forces to the deployment which would only be necessary against Russia, not against militias; such as SEAD (suppression enemy air defences), much Electronic Warfare forces in general, battlefield air defences and substantial anti-armour firepower.
(c) Ssolbergj
Putin/Russia would be forced to keep Russian troops in the Caucasus and to even reinforce them in order to deter an actual Western intervention there with the risk of a messy NATO-Russia conflict on proxy territory (it would be similar to how American and Russian pilots fought each other over North Korea during the Korean War).

Russia would be hard-pressed to reinforce the troops in the Caucasus with more than air-deployable forces only, but assuming it did succeed, it could attempt to sway Western public opinion by threatening Estonia with some additional brigades south of St. Petersburg.
The non-involved NATO and EU countries could respond by deploying some suitable forces in an 'exercise' to Lithuania (which has no border with Russian mainland), and subsidise an Estonian partial mobilisation (another 'exercise').

The elegance in this; nothing in this strategy even only requires a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, since no recognised country would be threatened.

So this is how great power hardball could or would look like if the West was playing at the same level as Putin.
It's not. Instead, Western great powers bully weak countries (up to an actual invasion and occupation) for no gain and annoy other delinquents with sanctions if they're disinterested in doing more.

Very little good came of this, ever. The sanctions on apartheid South Africa were probably effective and a good idea, and Panama was mentioned before. Other than that, Western great power games aren't merely cost-inefficient, but often even disastrous. The Iranian theocracy can be traced back to an American-supported coup in the 50's, for example. Many Cold War great power games were ill-fated because of sheer Western ignorance and self-delusion (categorizing independence and unification movements as communist and pushing them into Moscow's arms). Nowadays the USA are supporting both Saudi-Arabia (top ten worst states world-wide) and Pakistan (ditto), both were no doubt more to blame for 9/11 than Saddam's Iraq.

I expect (hope) my readers to recoil in horror at the aforementioned counter-Putin deterrence strategy, for it is risky gaming, expensive gaming and well, it depends on Turkish cooperation which would make it even more expensive (such as a promise never to support the Kurds or even an intervention in Syria). And the Abkhazians seek independence legitimately, so an actual move against them would be unethical.

It's fine if it looks like a bad idea; that's my point. Great power games are bullshit.
What's even worse bullshit is if one's government does play such games, but sucks at them even more than the adversary. And that's the status quo.


P.S.: After I wrote this I saw an "expert" suggest to move NATO forces into Ukraine itself to counter Russian aggression. That's exactly what I mean; so stupid (and primitive), a ten year-old would come up with the same 'advice' within seconds. 

Edit: I'm fully aware that even if they tried, they couldn't get the public to support the strategy. Western politicians can't do bluffs of this scale well. And again, that's my point: They're incapable, incompetent - but they still want to play the game. There's no von Bismarck anywhere, but it would take one to succeed.


Specialised reinforcement formations

There were discussions and experiments during WW2 and discussions afterwards about specialised brigades for reinforcing the combined arms formations (especially the so-called infantry divisions, which combined infantry, artillery and engineers, but lacked tanks).

One (tested) proposal was a pure artillery outfit, usable for creating an artillery concentration without stripping divisions holding the line of some of their artillery. Independent rocket artillery detachments were actually quite common.

21 cm Mörser 18*,
obviously unsuited for
divisional artillery
The employment of an artillery reinforcement is a curious case:
On the offence, you would have difficulty providing the necessary ammunitions tocks and any artillery ordnance that's not common in divisional artillery (such as 21 cm howitzers) would be a tell-tale sign for a coming offensive. The German army was accordingly able to predict most Red Army breakthrough offensives that were founded on massed artillery. It employed very heavy artillery only in independent detachments (one or few batteries, never full regimental strength) itself.
On the defence, artillery reinforcements would have a timetable problem. Early warning of hostile offensive intent would rarely allow for administrative marches of the reinforcements AND delivery of appropriate ammunition stocks.

An anti-tank reinforcement formation (regiment; not the mere assault gun, tank destroyer or heavy tank detachments and battalions) was another discussed option.
It would rather not be used to support offensives, but on the defence it could be decisive. A concentration of some anti-tank power in specialised reinforcements would allow for (and require) a slight reduction of line forces' heavy anti-tank weaponry. This in is not all bad, for some of those forces would be in tank-unfriendly terrain and not need much long-range AT firepower. The concentration of some of the best AT units in a mobile theatre reserve would have met the concept of a Schwerpunkt.
Yet again the employment of AT reinforcements would crucially depend on the timely detection of hostile offensive intent, a quick administrative march and quick choice and creation of camouflaged positions (at night).

The specialise and expensive 57 mm ZiS-2,
a potentially good choice for Soviet
dedicated AT reinforcements (c) Kerim 44

Today's specialised reinforcements mostly avoid these problems:
Helicopters can move their area of activity by about 200 km in an hour, and artillery may shift its long-range rocket/missile fires by up to about 50-500 km within minutes.
The large 'footprint' for the short term employment of such specialised support no doubt made them more attractive, and may have contributed decisively to the huge role such forces play in some of today's Western peacetime orders of battle. It may also lead to an understanding of helicopters and long range artillery as corps or theatre assets, and help to get rid of the stupid  idea of brigade- or divisional-level army aviation.

The position of specialised reinforcement formations in military art and theory is thus nowadays a very different one than during the World Wars. It's still an interesting concept (to me), and may come back to the spotlight if circumstances change suitably.


*: (c) "Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-093-0376-15, Norwegen, Lappland, Küstenbatterie" by Schödl (e)


The dragoons' problem lingers on

Modern people could mistake the dragoons from before the mid-18th century for cavalry, but they were in fact infantry on a mount (horse), typically a 'light horse' (low cost and too small and weak to carry a cuirassier and his equipment well).

The dragoons were supposed to fight on foot. Their officers were attracted by the more prestigious real cavalry and dragoons became more and more cavalry-like out of this bureaucratic self-interest over time until they were absorbed into a general cavalry (which ultimately had to give up mounted combat anyway but didn't want to be renamed into "dragoons").
17th century dragoons. I think the lying stance may be ahistorical.
The original dragoons were a weird creation. Most European armies had lost their archery skills (especially horse archery skills if they ever had much of them, unlike the Ottoman armies. This meant ranged combat on horseback was reduced to harassing and signalling (firearm noise telling nearby forces about the enemy's presence) and incapable of decimating the enemy as known from Asian and Persian steppe peoples. Cavalry had thus at most only a (weak) carbine or long pistol ("dragon", thus "dragoon") for firepower, and dragoons had to fight dismounted to possess more than this merely harassing firepower.

Mounted dragoons were inferior to real cavalry due to less training in mounted combat. Yet once on foot, they had to fear cavalry, for their firearms weren't effective enough to stop well-sized cavalry charges and their carbines (shorter muskets) were largely useless as a pike replacements even with extra-long bayonets. Dragoons weren't used in large-enough groups to enable a good defensive square formation (due to the cost of even their small horses).
The worst problem was no doubt that the horses didn't disappear once the dragoon intended to fight on foot: As a rule of thumb, one third of the dragoons (and later general cavalry) had to stay back with the horses to keep them under control and to protect them. Dragoons and late cavalry weren't merely weaker in dismounted combat than infantry, but also decimated by 1/3!

This problem lingered on with the 20th century descendants of the dragoons: Motorcycle troops and later motorised troops.
A two ton truck may be a very efficient transportation vehicle for a squad, but it still requires one in about ten men to stay back with the vehicle - and probably wait there instead of hauling supplies next. This 1/10th figure isn't representative, though: A late 20th century division of about 15,000 men (+/- a few thousand) had about 4,000 vehicles (+/- hundreds), and most of them were not combat vehicles. About one in four men in a modern army field formation is a designated driver not meant to engage in combat. The share is high in combat units, too.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 produced an event with high public attention; a successful intercept of a platoon of a maintenance company. Much attention was on the prisoners, on the (ironically) poor maintenance of their weapons and the like, but the news back then also revealed to the public that the 18 vehicles were 'manned' by only 31 soldiers; only 1.72 per vehicle. This isn't uncommon among support units any more; vehicles are now plenty and manning instead of motor transportation is the bottleneck nowadays. Back in 1940 those vehicles would be cramped because getting a free ride instead of a foot march was great. Nowadays we've got only a driver in some vehicles. The peacetime TO&E doesn't matter much in this regard, as units are almost always well below 100% nominal strength on a campaign.

The Korean War revealed some dangers in the current concept of motorisation; North Korean and Chinese infantry infiltrated through the poorly manned front-line and attacked the rear - mostly non-combat units, which were cramped in the valleys and bound to them due to their high quantity of motor vehicles and high share of drivers. The Americans and their allies proved to be resistant to this lesson, as they feared the nuclear battlefield more.

It got even worse with the introduction of the HMMWV* and its copies: Often times two such low capacity (1 1/4 ton, later 2 ton) trucks are being used for what could (and should) be done with a single medium three to six ton truck with one instead of two drivers. Other times they are used by a single senior NCO or officer to move around; something which could be done on a single motorcycle instead (possibly parasitic to cut down convoy size).

I consider this to be one of the actually long-known defects that need be corrected in Western ground forces. The general clumsiness of Western manoeuvre formations wasn't much of a concern on small training areas or on desert terrain or in computer simulations, but it's a dragging problem. Officers write many monographs, memos and books on agility and mobility and manoeuvre - but in the end the forces need to be able to realise the theory in face of competent and not terribly outnumbered hostiles. This is in doubt, and Third World armies demonstrated what happens when you attempt mobile warfare with unsuitable forces repeatedly.

The absence of much of a conventional military challenge to the EU doesn't make this issue less dire: For one, we should do reform when we're not under pressure, for it's much more difficult to pull off once there's a short-term risk of war. Second, more competent and better organised military forces are more efficient and can do more with less - saving on manpower (=freed for the economy) and funds (=lower taxes or less public debt).



*: The French ACMAT VLRA concept was actually much superior and was introduced in 50 countries since the 60's. The 4x4 VLRA base vehicle is more capable than a HMMWV militarily and the family extends to true light and medium trucks with an impressive parts commonality.

Man Who Lived Through Cold War Says Terrorist Group ‘Imminent Threat’ To America

Duffel Blog

Is it still satire if it's true?


Future land campaigns for defence

I didn't really write much on military theory topics for a while, and that's a mistake.

My military theory-tagged writings are a mix of some appreciation for old insights and practices, some peripheral topics and my core interest: How to deter / prepare for / wage a land warfare campaign as defending ("war of necessity") power or bloc in a land/air campaign. This is about a clash mostly between great powers. The kind of warfare that made Europe so fearsome militarily and broke much of it twice. Hence a healthy emphasis on "to deter".

There's nothing to be gained in such a war. Whatever you take or force on others, you'll pay way too much for it. The only sensible choice is to get over with it quickly, and with an acceptable outcome.
This means the defending power(s) should visibly gain the upper hand quickly, and proceed to offer a quick, face-saving and relatively cheap status quo ante peace or at least an armistice.
Any pondering about how to occupy the aggressor's countryside is thus moot. Very subtle progress in warfare isn't very helpful. Escalation - especially involving additional powers or introducing nuclear weapons - could prove to be perverse. To knock out the aggressor's government only keeps the aggressor from negotiating, and is thus counter-productive.

Highly visible and credible strength is fine for deterrence, but only if it is not so great that it creates fear of invasion and only if the strength is actually applicable: It doesn't help to know multiple divisions will arrive in two months if the aggressor intends a limited coup de main followed by a peace offer only.

The differences between textbook approach and reality will vary. Sometimes it will work almost flawlessly, other times a unit may be 50% understrength, lack radio comm, be low on supplies and tired. An all-round strong military has to at least potentially be good under all circumstances. You need to be able to exploit when and where you have superior power. You need to bee able to accomplish modestly ambitious missions with little resources. You need to avoid paralysis or collapse during a crisis.

Versatility, ability to function as fragments, ability to make do with a fraction of authorized strength ... there are many highly unfashionable and unsympathetic topics which deserve at least as much attention as the shiny new tool and its music-supported CGI video advertisement.

Infantry manoeuvred and fought in units of hundreds of men for thousands of years. The firepower revolution of the 'smokeless' powders changed this. Theoreticians understood that infantry would need to exploit cover and concealment during the approach in order to survive this firepower until it's close to the enemy. They did not figure out that this necessitated manoeuvre and combat in at most platoon-sized elements because cover and concealment were in short supply (nor did they figure out how to overcome defenders on the last few hundred metres). Practicians had to figure this out in 1914-1916.

Infantry adapted; by WW2 army offensives on cluttered terrain (such as in Italy) were really a string of  platoon engagements.
It is likely that mechanized forces still need to transition to a fully developed model for small manoeuvre unit tactics, leaving the big manoeuvre unit approach to engagements under very favourable circumstances only. Tank companies and platoons can and often do manoeuvre independently, of course - especially in battlefield reconnaissance and security missions. I'm somewhat ambitious and believe that this is far from "fully developed model for small manoeuvre unit tactics", and this is in part a matter of equipment versatility.

The challenge is about the same on the tactical level as on the strategic level; it's of lesser interest what to do on the battlefield when local superiority has been achieved. It's also of lesser interest how a clash between two largely intact and capable forces would end.
What's most interesting is how to shape the battlefield, how to create advantages prior to the main clash - or rather without a really big clash.

The focus should be on how to create advantages prior to the big clash, not during the big clash. A brilliant manoeuvre in the midst of a battle when thousands were already sent into the meatgrinder is fine for history books, but it's very, very late.
Small unit manoeuvre tactics and the reconnaissance's principle of committing few to high risks in order to alleviate the risks for the majority of the force are likely able to help very much.

Schwerpunkt. The current interpretations of "Schwerpunkt" vary a lot and are being applied to many different topics. The nature and validity of a Schwerpunkt is very different on the bloc, corps, brigade and battalion levels. Schwerpunkt / Economy of force and similar concepts are self-evident and valid ideas which help to avoid wasteful behaviour. The interpretations which obsess about the enemy's Schwerpunkt meanwhile cannot really show a track record of usefulness in real warfare.

Schwerpunkt is valid inasmuch as it helps us to maintain self-discipline and clarity of thought at times; it keeps us from fizzling out and demands a better husbanding of resources.
I do not fully subscribe to the concept, though. As mentioned in (4), the challenge is to prepare for tactical victory by accumulating advantages. The husbanding of resources as advised by the Schwerpunkt concept is but one way of many how to do this, and not ranking particularly highly amongst them. Too much attention to the Schwerpunkt can lead to ponderous preparations and risky bunching up of forces. Moreover, a fixation on the "bigger battalions win battles" school of thought keeps us from looking at the important micro level of independently manoeuvring small units and units or the value of shaping operations.

Answers depend on questions, military theory answers depend on circumstances. A force which is meant to handle a conflict quickly and satisfactorily will likely not be able to do so with the full power of its bloc. In fact, leaving much if not most of the bloc's power out of the campaign may allow their power to serve as bargaining chips in negotiations. You cannot threaten to add forces into the fray any more if you already did it. Few things impress as much in battle as the arrival and intervention of reinforcements, and politicians are likely to feel the anxiousness about this as well.

A conflict may thus be not only limited in time (quick) and geography (no escalation), but also very much limited in the forces committed. The consequence would be a rather low ratio of forces to terrain during the first weeks. This is even more important as fully motorized forces may move a lot, and may be positioned in great depth (thus increasing the area).
The battlefield may not only seem to be empty; it may actually be quite empty. Really defensible lines are not to be expected unless the geography really favours this. We have actually never seen a land campaign between two competent and fully motorized great power forces. The campaigns of Israel faced moderately competent forces and demonstrated a remarkable instability and record-breaking destructiveness. This was repeated against Iraqis, but this may prove to be no more instructive for campaigns against competents than was mowing down tribal spearmen with Maxim machineguns.


Conflict scenarios and musings of people who stick more to a conquest-like idea of war are bound to produce different conclusions.



Aggressive defence

Armoured divisions which forcibly crossed a river 1940* were told to set up a defended bridgehead by cautious minds. The idea was to wait for reinforcements and to refresh the exhausted troops. It was a sensible tactic on paper, for the culminating point of attack was likely close if not already exceeded. The troops were really tired and the artillery almost out of ammunition after four days of rapid advance.
More daring commanders on the scene - understanding that armour was better on the offence than on the defence - were more aggressive. Their concept was to advance and they enlarged the bridgehead considerably before hastily assembled elements from several opposing divisions arrived to create a weak defence around the bridgehead.
Later on, the reinforced armoured forces broke out of their large bridgehead quite easily (and probably with luck).

Ever since, the tactic of (what could be called) aggressive defence was firmly established in the repertoire of Western fast ground manoeuvre forces: Aggressive manoeuvres to disrupt preparations for counter-offensives, for breaking through defensive lines before they become strong and for avoiding a close containment of bridgeheads and breakthroughs.

Well, on paper: The same war famously saw a huge failure to enlarge a bridgehead a few years later.**

- - - - -

The concept - as imperfect as its execution usually is - has a quite universal applicability. You can observe the same in chess, in politicians' debates, in football - it should be no undue stretch to apply it to military strategy.

The ingredients are
(1) one's own ability to act aggressively
(2) while the opposing side is not yet done with (preparations for) what it intends to do.

- - - - -

Imagine an unfolding crisis, and your government has confidence in its expectations for what's going to happen next.
Couldn't a couple aggressive***, unexpected actions ruin the opposing sides' plans, crush their timetable, make their political calculations obsolete, destroy their confidence in their ability to predict your government's reactions and to predict the costs of the crisis?

Couldn't such a disruption make a quite acceptable diplomatic settlement more likely?

- - - - -

I'm all for peace and free love and stuff****, but I distrust the notion that escalation is always a bad thing. An escalation to ruin some aggressor's day may be the right thing to do. To have and obey a defensive and reactionary game plan makes one predictable. The very existence of a crisis should be understood as a hint that someone used this predictability to predict the outcome of a produced crisis - and arrived at the conclusion that it's a good idea.
A.k.a. failure of deterrence.


*: Meuse crossing, May 1940
**: Anzio, early 1944
***: "aggressive", NOT "aggression against a peaceful country
****: Similarly, I don't think "war as last resort" makes much sense.


Will the Marine Corps APC racket ever end?

The U.S. Marine Corps introduced an amphibious APC (similar to, but not as versatile as their WW2-era vehicles) for its large squads early in the 70's and immediately began to think about its successor :
1972: AAV-7 enters service
no production

1982: LVT(X) project,
no production

1990's and 2000's: AAAV project,
no production

until recently: EFV project, 
no production

Four decades. USMC development of big amphibious armoured personnel carriers has been ongoing for four decades without a production model, much less an affordable one. Only the "LAV-25", a slightly modified off-the shelf armoured truck, was purchased in the meantime. Its successor, "MPC", is on hold and big business is ready to go - go skim off a rent on development budgets since production is unlikely. The corps of most effective self-promoters failed in AFV development procurement grossly.

This beats even the U.S.Army, which was unable to bring a new armoured fighting (as opposed to transportation or combat engineering) vehicle into production for about three decades (and quite the same for helicopters, which is a USMC area of fail as well).

Examples of the USMC's bit ticket procurement incompetence are spreading in NATO; the U.S.Army, the British Army and the German army are on their heels. The active, but largely fruitless Poles and the Italians are no better. Armoured vehicle development and procurement sucks in NATO.
We can expect to sooner or later lag behind an aggressive neighbour by up to 40+ years if we allow such incompetence to reign on.

Yes, the German Puma IFV had severe teething problems. Some of the known (though not explicitly published) early problems were outright embarrassing, 3rd semester engineering studies-level failures. The program delivered merely one version, which is less than the mid-1980's Puma that was a development project of the industry itself and had huge logistical commonalities with the Leopard 1 and 2 tank families.


A quick look at oil trade

I did a quick look at oil trade, to see whether the United States become more independent from Persian Gulf oil and thus probably long-term more disconnected and disinterested as well. The statistics don't support this guess, but their look in diagram format is nevertheless striking (and odd):

data from U.S.Energy Information Administration