Arms racing; escalatory or de-escalatory?

Weeks ago I made a case for an intermediate legal situation between true peace and mobilisation. The idea was that deterrence (which is assumed to preserve the peace) is more effective if a potential aggressor doesn't major expect time lag advantages from moving first.
Alternatively, we could look at it as a cost-saving measure; you don't need to have all the military expenses to counter what a threat has AND it can build up in strength over two years of arms racing if you can credibly expect to be effective at counter-arms-racing in those two years. That capability means you only need to deter against what capabiliteis the threat has plus what it can build up in six months of arms racing.

It's a bit odd for a German to write about this and on this side of the aisle because our news media, historians and politicians appear to have a consensus that arms racing is not deescalatory, but escalatory. 

That may very well be true (which means we should find ways to change this), but arms racing and being prepared to arms-race are as different as are warfare and deterrence. The ability to grow much military power during a short arms race may (should) discourage any plans of aggressions that would be built on the assumption of creating an advantage through a superior arms-racing effort.

On the other hand, the possibility of for exmaple a 30% growth in military power during a mere two years peacetime might be perceived as threatening and provoking higher military expenses by another power. This could be mitigated if only countries known to be rather defensive (not meddling, bombing and invading on distant continents all the time) establish this enhanced arms-racing capability.

I'm not irritated in the slightest that this turns out to be an argument against participation in stupid small wars (= all small wars).


P.S.: I understand that I made up "arms racing" as a verb. I found no better alternative to express the concept.


Iceland security

I meant to write a normal-sized blog post about this for a while, but I'm simply not very motivated to blog these days.

So have a look at these




keep the previous post on OTH radars in mind and stuff like this

and this

and have your own thoughts about whether we (NATO) maybe neglecting the Northern flank's security these days and what should be done instead.



Why should we have a military?

"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"
Madeline Albright, 1992

 Yes, what's the point of a military?

I suppose to answer this properly you need to go back to the question of what's the point of having a government.

The Western view since the the enlightenment is that government serves the people. We, the people, by majority agree to do things together for our own good - we are a community.

There were other reasons for governments in the past. Some motivations were
  • to seek security in greater numbers.
  • to do things together in order to be able to exploit others.
  • to organise an effort of many to worship some deities.
The enlightenment view  - as documented in the philosophical construct of the contrat social - has been the dominant in Western circles on the surface. Another rationale ("To do things together in order to be able to exploit others.") has been more of an undercurrent, particularly in countries that had a rather dysfunctional political culture or a dictatorial regime at the time.

"to seek security in greater numbers" became rather the motivation behind supranational alliances than behind individual governments.

The hawkish party (which is not necessarily congruent with a political party) tends to emphasise "to seek security in greater numbers" as a key purpose of government. This is particularly evident in the utterly ignorant nonsense that government is merely meant to provide security against criminals and foreigners. And I call this utterly ignorant because it is - the function of providing rule of law regarding properties is completely essential to any wealth, for example. There would be no private property and hardly any functional markets without enforcement of rules regarding property and trade.
So the hawkish party espouses that security is what government about (not social security, of course). The problem with this is that their actions betray them. They behave according to another paradigm - "to do things together in order to be able to exploit others" at any opportunity given, though with a minor variation nowadays: They're not so much proponents of exploiting as of harming, dictating and at times eliminating others. This variation is but a cosmetic one, though. Nowadays exploitation isn't about taking away more wealth than is effort required to take it. Exploitation is nowadays at best about exploiting the capacity of others top take a beating in order to make oneself more comfortable psychologically. Many "problems" that can supposedly be addressed with aggressive military power are not material problems to the hawkish party. Defiant loudmouths and people with a very much different culture seem to be outright favourite targets to the hawkish party.

To princes of old government served their own and their dynasty's well-being, to modern 'hawkish party' partisans it appears to serve to alleviate their psychological stress.

My line - as repeated again and again on this blog -  is a very different one, one rooted in economic theory. I follow the notion of government by and for the people
Government action for the people must not do more harm to the people than good - which leads to a simple (though only theoretical) criterion for judging government action: The net benefit (benefit minus costs) should be maximised.

To conquer in order to exploit is simply not profitable any more, and thus cannot be considered a subset of government by and for the people. The benefits that government can bestow on the people with military power are mostly keeping peace (sparing the people the damages of war) and in worst case restoring the peace at minimised costs. Deterrence and defence.
There's sometimes a little benefit to be gained by the entertainment factor - parades, fascinating videos of war (remember the 1991 war porn?), positive feelings of pride. There are also a few other benefits such as disaster aid. No such secondary benefits come anywhere close to the benefit of keeping the peace, and such secondary benefits can either be provided at lesser costs by civilian organisations or the military is the most efficient institution to deliver those because their costs are sunk anyway.

All this leads to another cornerstone of what I write a lot about; the benefits from military power are limited. You don't get much more benefit from spending more once you succeeded at keeping the peace without concessions. This leads to much criticism of overspending, inefficiencies and spending that's not cost-efficient for deterrence or defence.

There is one philosophical uncertainty in all this, though: Benefits are not absolute. Even famous economists like to pretend they are, and pretend that one currency unit means the same to one person as to another, but there's no evidence to back this up. It's merely an assumption that makes matters calculable.
Philosophers have not yet found a definitive answer to how to value benefits (or even only money). They have theories, but none are fully satisfactory. There's also the information problem - only a god-like being would know how much value goods and services truly have to a person.
This keeps us from being able to claim with 100 per cent certainty that the satisfaction from seeing things getting blown up is less important than the suffering of the people who used to live or work in those buildings, or lost friends and relatives in there.

The "for the people" aspect adds another complication; how would we weigh the suffering of foreigners in a cost-benefit calculation?

Philosophy, economics and rational thought don't necessarily matter to people, of course. Some people are simply locked-in in opinions that were built on fears, aversions, disrespect and emotional needs. They would be fine with giant government expenses to beat up some loudmouths on another continent if only the government dudes don't show up on the doors and take share of the costs right away. Abstract public debt (delayed and magnified costs) is a much more comfortable price to pay. The connection is rarely seen this way - just as a dog doesn't understand why it gets punished for something it did hours ago. We, too, are animals with limited ability to process complex affairs.

Maybe you - the reader - are one of those who think (and write) that I should stick to military stuff and stay out of political issues because I'm "idiotic" about those.
Well, I like to think that the gargantuan efforts that sustain governments should be worth it. I do not see any evidence that aggressive military/foreign policies are worth it - but I see a lot of people whom I do not trust when they pretend that they have solid, conclusive reasoning behind their opinions.


P.S.: This was meant to be about inter-state warfare. Wars of independence are much less clear-cut. 

P.S. again: Well, I attempted to keep this blog post at an easily readable length.  That was probably a mistake, there's much more that should have been mentioned. I'll think about other ways to get the thoughts across.


OTH coverage for Europe

Typical over-the-horizon radars use many spaced antennas and achieve thousands of km range, but at the price of several hundred km minimum range. The Australian and American ones are apparently looking into certain directions, while the French have deployed an experimental one for 360° surveillance (and research). It's a skywave OTH radar.*


I cannot tell how much of a technical success NOSTRADAMUS is, so this blog post is all built on the assumption that it's a thorough technical success and thus justifies its expenses.

It's nice of the French to build such a radar, but it appears to be unable to detect and track much or anything over France or its coastal regions. It's furthermore questionable how reliable detection and tracking are close to its maximum range. It's certainly dependent on atmospheric conditions.

An overlapping OTH line operated by NATO might make a lot of sense. Two more NOSTRADAMUSesque radars would likely suffice; one on Iceland and one in Southern continental Greece or in Southern Croatia.

The three OTH radars could operate in coordination, avoiding interference.

Such a radar coverage in the HF band might prove very troublesome to Russian war planners particularly in surprise air attack scenarios, and thus add a lot to European deterrence.


*: Surface wave OTH radars have a very disadvantageous limitation; they cannot detect aircraft at high altitudes (they're still good for tracking maritime traffic).


Luftwaffe: F-35 or Typhoon for air/ground?

There's an ongoing debate about how to equip the Luftwaffe (German air force) for the air-to-ground mission.
The German Eurofighter/Typhoon has very limited A2G capabilities, and those are very recent additions that don't affect most planes.
a more practical A/G load for a Typhoon would be 4 guided bombs
The old Tornados are mostly limited to SEAD and recce, with very limited and mostly very old-fashioned general ground attack capabilities and they're getting really old.

The most-mentioned alternatives are
  • Typhoons properly equipped for A2G (this may be upgraded existing airframes or new airframes or a mix or upgrading old ones and buying new ones dedicated for A2A) and
  • F-35A.
The ministry appears to favour Typhoons, the head of the Luftwaffe publicly favours the F-35A.

My superficial comment on this is that it's utterly wrong to favour either in public. You need to exploit alternatives for a price-reducing competition. Anything but such behaviour is either malign (trying to gift money to for-profit businesses) or incompetent.
_ _ _ _ _

I have a very different comment on this on a  level more removed from such superficial news:

Let's face a fact: The Luftwaffe would love to have many gold-plated A/G aircraft, and it would be guaranteed to neglect stockpiling PGMs for all those gold-plated A/G aircraft. To do what Luftwaffe leadership or ministry of defence would do is all but guaranteed to be inefficient. Efficiency is not their primary criterion for what they favour AT ALL.

"Red" area air defences and fighters would make A/G missions without standoff munitions very risky and thus rather unlikely in the first days if not weeks of conflict. Yet to launch some cruise missile doesn't require a high end strike fighter. You may even make do with transport aircraft if the missile is long-ranged enough. The F-35 would not change this much; I expect it to be used in recce up close, but not without punishing losses. A/G up close is unlikely in the first week even above 15,000 ft - unless there are some mechanised raids that went well beyond the protection of area air defence umbrella and fighter cover. Allies will likely have enough F-35A to exploit what favourable opportunities for up close A2G exist in the first 1-2 weeks.

Germany is fairly close to potential war zones (NE Poland, Baltics) and should in my opinion focus on what defence requires in the first few weeks. This means rather fighters, very good area air defences, DEAD (destruction of enemy air defences) and SRBMs (ballistic missiles of less than 500 km range, accurate to few metres). So far we have fighters (dozens of 100% mission ready Eurofighter Typhoon, dozens more usable ones in a in less than perfect state of repair).

There's something else the Luftwaffe could do to greatly bolster deterrence & defence: Provide more and better infrastructure in the right places.
approx. range of Iskander SRBMs
Think about it; where would hundreds of Rafales, F-35, F-22 and Typhoons be based in the event of conflict?
Western states of Germany, France, Benelux, Austria, Italy? Those places are awfully far away from NE Poland, and even much farther from Estonia. There's not even close to enough (expensive) tanker capacity for 3 sorties/day from such distant bases.
We need bases in the Eastern German states and in the Czech Republic; as close as it gets without entering the range of Iskander missiles based in Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia could have hundreds more such missiles in there within 1-3 years).

To build air base infrastructure and to maintain it is not glorious, it's not fun, it's not satisfying - which is why it is almost certain to be neglected. Find me one Luftwaffe general or Luftwaffe fanboi who would like to see this done. Their all-natural aversion to this is entirely irrelevant to the question whether it would be wise to do it or not, of course.

There's deterrence & defence and then there's the stuff that makes 'top' leadership happy. The overlap is systemically small.

I say; the Luftwaffe should forget about F-35, give up on A/G Typhoons! *

Instead, the Luftwaffe should go for
  • improving the readiness of  the Typhoon fleet by building up stockpiles of spare parts
  • building additional air bases in Eastern states of Germany for 500+ combat aircraft
  • building facilities adjacent to some civilian airports in Eastern states of Germany for 200+ combat aircraft
  • building some of the special maintenance facilities required by F-22 on existing air bases in Western German states
  • exercises to deploy Typhoon wings from Western states of Germany to some of those new air bases within 24 hrs without early warning
  • encouraging similar deployment exercises by allies, for example by refuelling them for free for a week after a 24 hrs quick deployment of all the wing's ready aircraft
  • investing in 500+ SRBMs with CEP better than 10 m
  • creating very capable soft kill defences and area air defences to secure the main air bases, particularly the ones with forces present in peacetime
  • investing in soft kill (multispectral smoke, Pandarra fog (if it really works), GLONASS jammer) and a perimeter of ShoRAD for some road bridges at the Oder river
  • investing in better electronic warfare capabilities that could lay the groundwork for a DEAD and air superiority campaign by reconnoitring 'red' area air defence and fighter behaviour in wartime mode
  • investing in having almost all Typhoons fully equipped for A2A missions** including enough Meteor missiles and a Meteor upgrade with AESA radar

It's incredibly counter-intuitive to tailor one's forces to deterrence & defence, apparently. Almost everyone - no doubt most readers included - gravitates towards 'balanced' armed forces, regardless of how irrelevant some parts would be and regardless of how miniature the end result would be. Such behaviour is very wasteful.



*: Though I admit the versatile GBU-54 is extremely enticing. It it takes quite an effort even for me to resist its promises.
**: Some of them - particularly two-seaters used for type conversion training and the oldest machines - wouldn't need to be upgraded.


The case for a second level between war and peace

Germany knows three states of alarm as a nation; plain peace, crisis (mobilisation) and war. I will argue in favour of a fourth state here.

There are two reasons for the need for a fourth state of alarm:
  1. There were brief but intense arms racing periods prior to both world wars (1912-1914, 1938-1939 and 1939-1941 for USSR, Japan and USA), and many other world wars.
  2. Peacetime ways of procuring weapons and munitions are so clumsy one has to think in years, not months.
One might argue that -especially in the age of nuclear munitions- a counter-arms racing might increase instead of reduce the probability of war and that nuclear munitions make attempts to limit the damage done by an eventual war futile.

Still, there may be situations in the future when the government concludes that counter-armsracing is a good idea. The problem here is that we would be largely incapable of it due to problem #2.

A relatively simple and extremely cheap fix that could greatly help to  deter an arms race in the first place is to introduce a fourth state of alarm that deals with problem #2.

We could add to the constitution a fourth 'long duration crisis' state of alarm in which the executive branch would be able to command military procurement/services and civil defence procurement/services contracts onto businesses, said businesses would have their equity capital and labour compensation levels frozen (decrease of equity capital would be compensated by the government, increases would be taken by the government, no payments other than wages to shareholders) and all military/civil defence contracts would have total priority over all other contracts (to those it would be similar to force majeure cases).

These provisions would make it believable that we would indeed be good at arms-racing, despite many industry order books being so stuffed that they have no free capacity for months or years to come.

The costs would be a couple thousand work days for politicians and civilian staff members as well as the negligible cost of publication. It would be an almost free boost to deterrence.



To lead is exhausting

One thing I remember well from experience is that to lead is exhausting. It's even more exhausting than to be among the most alert, most active folks who just follow.

You have to do most things everyone else has to do, but you need more and constant awareness of your people, you need more awareness of your surroundings (terrain, neighbours, opponents, you get less and shorter breaks, you have to think ahead for a much longer time span, all the minor fuckups including false alarms come to your attention and on top of that you still have superiors to deal with.The more stupid and inept your men are, the worse it is unless you lower your expectations and dumb most things down.

A long, long time ago as an adolescent I watched a movie and saw anofficer riding a horse with ordinary soldiers marching in lockstep behind. I thought something along the lines of "what a douche".
I was so wrong. That officer needed that horse.

One of the better parts of the book "Infantry attacks" was the description of how exhausting the job of a lieutenant was even far away from opposition. The horse was an utter necessity for moving between superiors and the own men.

I myself never had a terribly long exercise without stubbornly taking some sleep, but every once in a while I read reports about how officers often become ineffective after four days of exertions for want of sleep discipline.

I mentioned this before, and if I remember correctly my stance was always to enforce that sleep discipline.

Maybe I was wrong and it's sometimes impossible or even insufficient to enforce sleep discipline. Maybe something is fundamentally wrong with the division of labour, with how burdened leaders - especially the better ones - are. You may burn out even if you get enough sleep, and cognitive processes may be badly impaired by exertion without anyone noticing (especially in a hierarchical organisation where you're "not encouraged" to loudly question the wisdom of orders).

I've come more and more to the point of view that leadership at unit and small unit level should be divided into the external perspective and the internal perspective: One leader deals with the own men and the other (senior) one deals with everything around them. A most thorough application of this (much more radical than the ordinary CO + senior NCO pairing) may have promise, might be worth some tests.

An alternative way to address the problem would be to let 2nd i command guys do the heavy lifting in the easier times, and prepare him especially for this. A 1st in command could then take over for most stressful phases while still fresh.

The way we do things is heavily path-dependent and not necessarily optimal. It's similar to the quasi-evolutionary approach of leaning artificial intelligence: AI can learn to do a task, but usually repeated learning processes are very much unlike each other and often end up at different end results - and not necessarily the optimal result. That's because the outcome is path-dependent.



How to Fix the Belgian Armed Forces

Belgium as a NATO member

Belgium has a little more than 11 million people and a GDP a little over EUR 400 bn. Public debt is above 100% GDP. Yet the government appears to intend to buy 34 F-35 Lightning II. This would cost USD 6.53 bn, plus likely EUR 1.5...3 bn additional expenses to modernise airbase facilities and other related costs. That's the equivalent of Germany buying 250 (when looking at population size) or 270 F-35 - a very major fiscal effort (much bigger than the annual military budget). To abstain from this effort would reduce the public debt by 2...3 per cent of GDP.

My stance is that membership in a large alliance does NOT mean that you need to pay more to be a "good" ally and actually helper to some of the most aggressive alliance members. The purpose is to enable small powers to achieve deterrence and defence in the first place to maintain peace and sovereignty and secondarily it makes security and defence cheaper. 

A simple model shows this; two countries are border on each other and a third, larger and threatening country. Going alone they would need to maintain armed forces to deter an attack by the bigger neighbour on their own, and deter by being able to inflict punishing damage on both neighbours at once if they attack. An alliance between the two smaller countries enables them to not consider each other as a threat any more, and to spend roughly half as much as without the alliance, for they would stand together against aggression by their larger neighbour.

It's a simple, reasonable and rational principle - and utterly covered up by the nonsense that politicians spew about how smaller allies should spend much on their military (to be a useful auxiliary forces pool for stupid small wars) because they are in an alliance.

This idea of an alliance combined with Belgium's high public debt and a certain fragility of the nation* leads to my conclusion that the armed forces of Belgium should provide a relevant contribution to collective security at low cost.

The Belgian armed forces

The Belgian military (Dutch: Defensie; French: La Défense) has land, air, marine and medical components, notionally unified in to one armed service. Active personnel is around 30,000 and there's hardly any reserve personnel. The annual military budget is about € 4 bn, that's a little less than 1% GDP.

Belgium has a short coastline with some ports, and its navy has been very small for a long time. Its air force had its best time in the 80's when it was equipped with lots of then still new F-16s. Its army had forward-stationed elements in Germany during the Cold War, and everyone seemed to consider them a weak spot in the string of divisions that guarded NATO in Central Europe during the Cold War. Today it's essentially a cluster of infantry battalions with traditional names, lacking artillery and tanks. The entire land component is incapable of true combined arms warfare.

Belgium is special

There are two things special about Belgium:
  1. It's home to NATO administrative/political headquarters and NATO's strategic level HQ, SHAPE.
  2. It's fairly close to Lithuania and wheeled vehicles could self-deploy to it in two days (technically). The wide rivers Rhine, Oder and Vistula would need to be crossed.**
There are thus two fairly self-evident missions for Belgium's armed forces:
  • To provide security for NATO HQs
  • To provide some quick reaction forces for NATO's deterrence and defence in the Northeast.
I suppose the latter should rather be land forces than some gold-plated strike fighters, for the latter could just as easily be deployed from the UK or Spain. Half an hour or one hour of additional ferry flight time makes much less a difference than one or multiple additional days of road marches.

My recipe

About sea power; no navy, but a coast guard with paramilitary status and at least two mine hunting-capable boats. Those should be faster than the current minehunters (15 kts) to be useful for policing and better for SAR. The two active frigates are nearing the end of their lives anyway.

About air power; no miniature air force and certainly no gold plated planes. Instead, the federal police could operate two transcontinental range business jets for VIP transport and the land forces should feature impressive area air defences.

About land power; this should be split into two parts.

A territorial forces division tasked with training and with providing security for NATO HQs, Bruxelles airport and federal government. This component would have the ordinary malaise of personnel being on courses instead of at their home units, and some officers would be exchanged and replaced by allied exchange personnel. The hardware highlights of this components would be some old AFVs and some high quality area air defence and BMD batteries, both for SHAPE's security.

A field army division would be tasked with a super-quick deployment of a mechanised brigade to the Northeast of Warsaw, provided German, British, French and Polish forces ensure there are enough bridges and military pontoon bridges available across Rhine, Oder and Vistula. The second mission would be to deploy a follow-up mechanised brigade a little later.

This division would have two mechanised brigades (tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, air defences) in two-year tours, phase-shifted by one year. So one brigade would be training up from platoon training to unit training to battalion battlegroup training while the other would focus on maintaining the peak competence for a year. The personnel would have the individual training completed (in the territorial forces) before joining a brigade for two years, would be deployable*** and would be frozen in for two years. No-one would be sent to a course, no-one would be sent to a liaison tour, no-one would be promoted to a new position. Duds that were identified would have to be replaced with territorial forces 'personnel for the rest of the two-year tour.
One high value brigade would arrive NE of Warsaw in 2...4 days, and the second with lesser capabilities but identical (and complete) equipment would arrive in 1...2 weeks, capable of less demanding missions only. Tank transporters used to deploy the first brigade would be the only divisional troops save for some MP and a tiny divisional administrative HQ.

The TO&E of these mechanised brigades could be designed with integration into some multinational army corps in mind. The bilingualism of Belgium means that cooperation with Dutch, French and Canadian forces could be done with little friction from language barriers, while cooperation with Germans would also be fairly easy given the proximity and thus many opportunities for efficient joint training.
The brigades could be kept affordable by abstaining from gold-plating except in regard to signalling, (mostly passive) electronic warfare, anti-tank firepower and air defence. The quantity of tracked vehicles could be kept to a minimum (MBT and recovery tanks) to limit the quantity of needed tank transporters, but this doesn't mean that many fashionable yet cost-inefficient 8x8 AFVs should be purchased, especially no gold-plated ones. Nor should any fancy buggies or ATVs be used; road march efficiency and long-range cruise speed are important. As a rule of thumb it's the better the less motor vehicles the brigade has, especially if Vistula and Oder brigades are busted and but a few pontoon bridges of limited capacity (~250 vehicles/hour)  are available.

advisable high cost weapon systems:
  • SPGs: Caesar 2 or Archer
  • MBTs: refurbished M1A1 or refurbished M1A2 (due to good availability)
  • air defence: Land Ceptor, AMRAAM-ER or SAMP-T
(I mention this hardware only to communicate the necessary level of quality.)

I have not much knowledge of how the Belgian military copes with the bilingualism, but I strongly suggest that one should avoid making one brigade Flemish and the other one Wallonian. As far as I know the current compromise is to have some battalions in one and some in the other language, but brigades mixed. Multi-ethnic armed forces wisely prefer to keep their forces mixed above battalion and regiment level. This may not be the best for military performance, but it's often a necessity for the country's integrity in the long term. 

I strongly suppose that Belgium could have armed forces that would be more useful to the collective deterrence & defence effort while spending less on them (after investments in three to five years of reform).


P.S:: I will not continue the "How to Fix" series till all NATO countries are covered. I chose Belgium because it represents a somewhat different case than the previous ones. It's no great power, not Mediterranean, and is not Eastern European. The "How to Fix" blog posts may be considered templates; they are largely transferable to similar countries.

*: Belgium is half kind-of-French and half kind-of-Dutch, not a nation-state. This predetermined breaking point requires that the people be extra-satisfied with federal government in order to maintain the peace and country. Belgian federal-level politics have failed to positively impress the people for a long time, and huge military spending mostly serves to reduce what perceptible good policies the government can afford to its people. In short; Belgian's federal government should better spend money on quality of life than on arms, or else the country may break up sooner or later.
**: The Elbe river looks big on  maps, but it's a flimsy obstacle in many places unless it's swollen by much rainfall.
***: Plain English: No women who could get pregnant, period. This does not exclude all real women and does not exclude any fake women, of course.


Modern warships (VIII) - links to previous naval-themed blog posts at D&F

Some of these explained tech, thoughts and conclusions that were not covered in detail in the previous parts. These are most, but not all, of the "navy" tagged blog posts at D&F.














I'd have stopped here if the Mayans had been correct.