2015/08/28

Flottenverein

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Some people just love all things naval. The uniforms, the ships, the navy in general. They just love the idea of a navy, the fantasy about the navy in their brain - even insiders who actually worked in a navy and experienced the dull bureaucracy that all established armed forces have become - they just love the navy.

It's a grave mistake to think of navy officers or veterans as experts in naval affairs. First one should check whether they are infected with this irrational love or not. The bias of navy fans is incredible and perfectly immune to arguments or reality in general. Psychologists revealed in experiments that people with a strong opinion will feel this opinion even stronger and become more agitated in its defence when faced with contradicting evidence. The psychological research about this phenomenon was done in the 70's or earlier, but still didn't improve our society because "rational" is not the way people make decisions.

More about the navy fans; I suppose many readers know about the German Flottenverein, a lobby organization with an astonishing quantity of members which pushed for an impressive battlefleet prior to the First World War. This endeavour leeched resources away from the land power of Germany, quite likely causing the first World War to grow this long, this horrible - and to end with German instead of French defeat.

There was a second Flottenverein, though. Now considering that there were and are only three German-speaking countries and Switzerland lacking any coastline, this could only have been an Austiran thing. Austria-Hungary had a coastline before 1918.

Now keep in mind the naval mine was developed into a practical munition by 1900, the torpedo was developed into a practical munition by 1900, Italy had hardly any important harbours on the Adriatic coast, Italy was kinda allied to Austria-Hungary prior to 1915 (the map shows the political allegiances of 1916) Austria-Hungary had no colonies not intent to conquer any ... the case for even a small navy was infinitesimally small. Any money spent on an Austrian-Hungarian navy would be better spent on its army.

Nevertheless, Autria had its own navy fan(atics). They had their own Flottenverein, the Österreichischer Flottenverein. It lobbied for a battlefleet, and a (tiny) battlefleet it got.

Austro-Hungarian fleet exercise fo 1913 - from an old postcard

I kid you not; the stupid is so strong, Austria - while lacking any coastline after 1919 - had successor organizations of this lobby organization founded after both world wars.

The navy of Austria Hungary is summarized at naval-history.net:
Apart from one major fleet sortie on the declaration of war between Austria and Italy on the 23rd May 1915, and an aborted one in June 1918 when dreadnought 'Szent Istvan' was lost, the Austrian heavy ships spent the entire war as a fleet-in-being within the Adriatic Sea, holding down a large portion of the Italian and French battle fleets as well as units of the Royal Navy. Most of the action in the Adriatic that took place involved the well-handled destroyers, submarines and to a lesser extent light cruisers of the Austrian Navy.

The page goes on to list the 'impressive' record of achievements - eight warships sunk for 17 lost.
Meanwhile, the Austrian army badly lacked machineguns, field howitzers, ammunition and an industrial base to properly sustain itself during wartime. Their navy was useless tot hem during the First World War - their army and what little industry supported it was all-important - and succumbed due to lack of ressources (and cohesion), killing the state it was meant to defend in the process.

I kid you not on this either: Bolivia has been landlocked for generations, but it nevertheless maintains a "navy":



That's how strong the stupid is, how strong the fascination with a navy can be - and is in many places. 

Germany has never been better off with a navy in war than it would have been without it  - but this didn't stop us from recreating one in both Germanys during the Cold War. Neither had any chance of beign a cost-efficient deterrent or a even only remotely decisive force in WW3. The surface combat units of the Cold War were all crap save for the F122 Brmen class of ASW frigates, which may or may not have been useful in their niche. The oversized mine countermeasures fleet of West Germany had no sensible mission at all - nobody would have been stupid enough to ship supplies or reinforcements directly into German harbours during a WW3, and we did expressly not want to suggest to Moscow that we planned for invading Eastern Europe.

Yet actual utility or not - navy fans just know that the navy is all-important, and they all have one thing in common: They want more ships, shinier ships. Nice toys.


S O
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2015/08/26

German field howitzer firing in Syria

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The use of German WW2 tanks during the Yom Kippur War was weird. I'm at loss of words about this video.
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Tempo and losses

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I read books for their gems - small bits of most interesting info or thoughts - not for the whole work. A book from an unknown author with many mistakes and boring style can still be fine to me if it has four or five gems in it that add missing mosaic pieces to my knowledge.

I'd like to show you one such gem, it's from the book "Air Power and Maneuver Warfare" (which didn't have many mistakes and wasn't very boring):

Tempo sharply reduces casualties and logistic demands. This is the logical result of maneuver impacting the enemy before he can react coherently. The Soviets in their detailed postbattle studies (table 1) made elaborate correlations demonstrating this phenomenon. Their data show that, in addition to reduced demands for ammunition and fuel, fast-breaking advances of 20-50 kilometers a day resulted in three times less personnel losses and 1.5 times less tank losses than when the tempo of advances was 4-10 kilometers per day.

The OODA-esque interpretation is too simple (slow advances were often simply advances which faced a more powerful defence and no amount of elaboration in statistic analysis can cancel this factor out).
Still, the correlations between losses and apeed of advance as well as between operational success and speed of advance are strong. You should want to move quickly in land warfare for greater success and lower costs. The challenge is of course how to do this right, and this goes back even to training, hardware characteristics design priorities and organization.

S O
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2015/08/20

The return of conventional warfare (II)

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Yesterday I looked at the superficial, easy things about the current re-orientation. Today is the tiem for the 'backoffice' and non-hardware activities. Sadly, I'm not nearly as confident that these changes will actually happen.

* more combined arms training

* more deployment training

* "rapid deployment" may equate "administrative marches by road and rail" again, not by "airlift"

* pre-positioning of artillery ammunition stocks and a few brigade sets in Eastern Europe

* infantry training looking at assault/raid and ambush/delaying actions much more, less at counter-IED, counter-sniper

* more training in woodland

* some more winter training, more rarely combined with 'alpine' training

* more training in radio emissions-restricted mode, less emphasis on items such as blue force tracker

* less dependency on satellite navigation

* new approaches to AFV identification friend or foe; both radio-based approaches and markings in the infrared spectrum won't do the trick any more

* renewed attempts to accelerate headquarter decisionmaking processes and to shorten orders

* more air combat training

* changed civ-mil training; expecting motorized civilian refugees to produce traffic jams, less interest in civilians as intel sources or as potential insurgents

* efforts to streamline political decisionmaking processes, to be imprinted in the foreign policy bureaucracies (because the political masters aren't there to stay as much as are bureaucrats)


One thing that I totally do not expect are any preparations for taking hostages bargaining chips in case of some crisis. NATO could keep Moscow's pet projects in Abchasia and South Ossetia hostage, or even occupy Kaliningrad Oblast in the event of violent Baltic border violations. I suppose this would both be too politically incorrect for a consensus among so many (notional) democracies.

S O
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2015/08/19

The return of conventional warfare

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The Ukraine crisis has shifted the focus back from occupation-style warfare to conventional warfare, even though "hybrid" is still a fashionable buzzword due to the initial "We are not Russians, look - we removed our patches!" approach of invading and annexing the Crimea.

One of the most obvious comebacks was the one of main battle tanks; Germany pulls some out of storage, for example. A couple years ago the intent was rather to add infantry battalions for more boots on the ground (outside of the camp) during occupation warfare.

Other comebacks may be about
  
* (long-range, shoot and scoot-capable) artillery (with cheap dumb or simple trajectory correction munitions), which appears to dominate combat in the Eastern Ukraine
 
* electronic warfare, which the Russians appear to use well in the Ukraine
 
* rapidity, since the Russians are not forgiving deliberation and loitering as well as the Taliban do
 
* anti-tank munitions, since no matter how much Javelin and (Euro)Spike are being hyped-up, the AT munition issue is unsatisfactory
 
* classic minefield breaching; real (scatterable) AT mines instead of "IEDs", "breach this shallow minefield under fire now!" instead of "we clear this 100 km road in a two-week operation"
 
* mobile logistics instead of adding comfort to huge walled bases
 
* air combat and (Western) air defences
 
* SEAD/DEAD (suppression/destruction of enemy air defences) and aircraft self-protection against SA-10, SA-12, SA-17, SA-19, SA-20, SA-21. SA-22, SA-23, SA-24, "Morfey", 50R6 Vityaz
 
* battlefied EMP and laser threat concerns
 
* how to wage air war past support range of pushed-back (by long-range SAM and fighters) large radar support planes (AWACS, Erieye, J-STARS, ASTOR) where aircraft need to use their own radar much to avoid blindness (no in-service fighters were designed for organic 360° radar coverage)

* concerns about very accurate cruise missiles and (quasi-)ballistic missiles
 
* bunker-busting
 


I dislike the fetish about bunker-busting and ballistic missile defence; there are so few bunkers able to withstand ordinary bombs that I began to suspect "bunker-busting" really is about entering and blowing up from inside the massive reinforced concrete legs of large bridges. "BMD" looked a lot like a racket to spend shove more money to missile- and radar-makers while there was no impressive combat aviation threat as a suitable justification. Ballistic missiles can be employed in saturation attacks that overwhelm any kind of BMD. BMD against manoeuvering (guided) ballistic missiles is ridiculously challenging anyway.



I've always emphasised real deterrence and defence over occupation warfare and many of these suspected comebacks are about topics I covered in articles years ago already. 
It is this wealth of old-and-still-applicable articles and the poor access to good information about warfare in the Ukraine that keeps me from writing much more about the currently en vogue military topics.

This list may thus be biased in favour of my pet topics instead of a rational assessment of what will gain prominence. Furthermore, I remember my prediction of fashions was very faulty about 15 years ago, when I was sure thermobaric munitions and flechettes would become big. Instead, white phosphorous shells and Kalashnikovs caught the attention of journalists and activists who attempted to abolish war by discrediting and banning one tool of warfare after another. Maybe my prediction isn't more accurate now either.

S O
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2015/08/16

2015/08/12

Iran backing Shia insurgents

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I recently saw another piece about how Iran supports Shia insurgents and militias in other countries, and it was portrayed as seeking to grow influence, as offensive against other countries et cetera.

It felt like Cold War all over again. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was painted by the U.S. as evil central when it supported "communist" insurgencies in Africa. The CIA played the counter-force, supporting governments against this subversion.
In the end, history books treat those insurgents more as anti-colonialism freedom fighters and anti-racism freedom fighters than as "communists", though their later governance wasn't exactly exemplary. The U.S. wasn't only losing - it was on the wrong side of history, and its conservatism in favour of oppressors was exploited by the Soviets who gained influences because they picked the low-hanging fruits of siding with well-motivated rebels.

Nowadays Iran is backing Shia forces in Arab countries.
In Yemen, they support one tribal group just as Saudi-Arabia backed tribal groups and bribed factions for effectively controlling Yemen's politics and policies mroe than any Yemeni faction. Crime, corruption, poverty and poor governance motivated and motivate people in Yemen to rise up in arms; the Iranian-backed faction happens to be the most successful of them so far. Saudi-Arabia now bombs and intervenes in Yemen directly in order to cut back a faction they cannot bribe.

Hezbollah in Lebanon is internationally known for skirmishing with Israel, but it's also a local de facto replacement for the dysfuntional and weak Lebanese state. Much of the Iranian support is used to provide public goods and even welfare transfers for the people in Southern Lebanon, which in turn are loyal to Hezbollah. They also helped Assad in the Syrian Civil War, but this has after severe losses largely shrunk to an effort to secure the Shia minority there and notably involved some combat against ISIS.

Iranian support for Shia group in the other Arab countries such as Qatar is tricky; on the one hand armed resistance there is perfectly legitimate consideering the nature of those governments, on the other hand those groups are (close to) terrorists becuase the system of oppression in these states is effective enough to limit their freedom fo action to a terrorist's repertoire.
Let's look at the Arab states in the Gulf area as what they are: Kleptocrat 100% corrupt absolutist monarchies of fake dynasties made up only a couple decades ago. Also, they're discriminating and oppressing the Shia as people and as a religious group.
Armed resistance against those states, their leadership, their military, their paramilitary, their police and much of their judicial bodies and unarmed state groups of oppression (religious police etc.) is legitimate.


I emulated a pro-Iranian perspective* to point out that once again, judgment about who's the baddie and who's doing legitimate business depends on the perspective. Sadly, the U.S. backing for many dictatorships in the Mid East risks repeating embarrassing and tainting Cold War episodes. Even more annoying to me personally is how easily the propaganda appears to shape public opinion in the West into a perspective biased in favour of the Gulf dictators and the backing U.S..
We should rather recognize that the Mid East is a mess in general with many illegitimate governments with whom we still deal in the U.N. general assembly, but who neither deserve respect nor support. We might have sme actually advantageous influence on Iran if we had enough relations with them to threaten with a withdrawal of advantages - this way we might motivate them to limit their support to non-terrorist, non-harrassing groups or to exert respective influence on worse groups. We already used all those options to bully them into giving up their 'we could turn into a nuclear power' status instead.

To pretend that Shia resistance to established dictatorships is illegitimate and Iranian support for such resistance is 'eviiiil' equals falling back into primtive Cold War reflexes with a good/evil view of the world. That view never served us or others well.

S O

*: Many more details could be added, many of them disadvantageous to the Iranians. This doesn't matter - I wrote this to point out that there's a substnatial pro-Iranian perspective at all.
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2015/08/11

Dinosaurs

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This was the last stand of heavy artillery on land - a most powerful yet also most obsolete heavy artillery. The superiority of rockets and aircraft as delivery platforms for warheads had become obvious, and heavy artillery had been obsolete and cost-ineffective by the 1930's already. Even long-range artillery such as 17 cm field cannons were obsolete during WW2 despite their niche (persistent long-range harassment fires).

We haven't seen much high-end peer-on-peer hot conflict for decades (fantastic!), so it's interesting to ask what dinosaurs are loitering in service these days, wasting taxpayer money as did heavy artillery in the 1930's.

I have a few candidates:

Amphibious warfare ships

Amphibious warfare used to be satisfactorily with improvised means forever, until War Plan Orange envisioned assaults on tiny islands with defended beaches and the USMC grasped the opportunity. The Second World War's Pacific campaign ingrained amphibious warfare as important in people's memories, but ever since it's been an afterthought. The landing at Inchon may be brought forward as a counterpoint, but then I ask "Which one?", for there was a precedent with improvised means in 1904, when Japanese forces landed there during the Russo-Japanese War already. They did not need any dedicated amphibious warfare ships.
The large amphibious forces have almost negligible utility in war and peace and may be obsolete not because of technology, but because of strategic circumstances. They may have been an exception to the rule misunderstood as a new rule only because of institutional self-interest and PR proficiency.

SSBN

Huge nuclear-powered submarines for the sole purpose of carrying rockets with thousands of kilometres range and nuclear warheads are incredibly cost-ineffective compared to specialized lorries, rail wagons and (quasi-)inland sea* submarines as platforms. China has no credible SSBN force, yet everybody considers its nuclear deterrent with only a few hundred warheads a scary-enough deterrent.

ASW frigates and destroyers

Multistatic very low frequency sonars can work just fine with a few expendable boats and a civilian ships with a few mission equipment containers for signals processing. The all-in-one package hunter-killer ASW ship is very expensive and probably (despite all the efforts) not survivable or effective enough to justify such an expensive approach to anti-submarine efforts.

Aircraft carriers

They are a prime and proven platform for bullying distant far-away developing countries, but aircraft carriers provide little actual utility despite huge budgets. Air defence for transoceanic convoys is probably the only niche for them once you factor in aerial refuelling and improvised airbases, drop any WW2 Pacific War fixation and drop the urge to bully small and tiny powers as well. Their prime in the Mediterranean Sea 1941-1942 rested heavily on the short range of most warplanes of the period, lack of aerial refuelling and on an (Allied) shortage of land bases until late 1942. Their role in the Pacific 1941-1945 was about the same plus the quite unique occurrence that otherwise meaningless tiny islands far from valuable land masses gained great strategic importance. Even the bullying was in most cases done with a combination of land-based and carrier-borne air power, proving that the land-based air power was in range as well and likely could have done the job on its own.
There's probably a good case for a few aircraft carriers of a cost-effective design, but likely none such for the actually existing aircraft carrier fleets with their expensive high-end escorts.

Fast Attack Craft

It's inconceivable to me why these still exist. They didn't make much sense since about 1943. They were not fully ineffective afterwards, but hardly cost-effective compared to alternatives.

Minesweeping/Minebreaking ships and boats

Unlike minehunting, minesweeping and minebreaking seek to destroy naval mines by triggering them when there's no vulnerable target without detecting them beforehand. This may still make sense for clearing canals and rivers, but the rise of naval mines with a 'smart' acoustic fuze (usually combined with a differing fuze type) allowed the opposing force to 'teach' the naval mine to detonate only when it detects the distinct sound of specific ships or ship types. The minesweeper or minebreaker would have a hard time guessing which ship to emulate, and built-in counters have been used to prevent naval mines from detonating on first positive contact ever since WW2. Minesweeping and Minebreaking could thus not be reliable means for clearing a port access except for a specific warship. Minehunting with imaging sonar and other sensors isn't perfect, but with today's navigational precision it likely stands a better chance when tasked to clear a thin lane for maritime traffic.

IR-guided  ManPADS
Introduced during the height of the Cold War and famous since the Afghanistan War, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles with infrared seeker have been a suspiciously tempting concept. The bazooka and Panzerfaust gave the infantry a proper defence against tanks, finally ManPADS gave them a proper defence against aircraft!
The combat performance was actually poor against combat aircraft, though. The greatest effect was to push aircraft to a higher attack altitude, which doesn't hurt their detection, identification and attack capabilities much any more. The Stinger's famed success over Afghanistan is partially hyped-up; it shot down very few Su-25s.
Modern infra-red countermeasures (technical and tactical) appear to be very effective, so the whole concept may have become a 99% dud. This does not apply to laser beamrider ManPADS.

Anti-tank guided missiles with shaped charge
Classic ATGMs are still very effective against other than high end tanks, but there are substitutes in such roles (recoilless guns may have a revival due to new propellants, for example). Their lethality against high end tanks has been questionable since the 1980's at the latest. Even the advanced ones with a true seeker (Javelin, Spike/EuroSpike) are of questionable value because they are even less cost-effective for most targets and their seeker too easily fooled by modern countermeasures (break of lock by multispectral smoke, for example).

Indirect fire mortars with dumb fin-stabilized ammunition

The susceptbility of mortar bombs to counter-mortar radars (detection of origin by extrapolation of an observed trajectory) puts a huge quesiton mark behind the organic indirect (mortar) firepower of battalions. It's no doubt effective under good circumstances, but a sophisticated opponent could likely suppress them. Course-correcting munitions which deceive about the origin and shoot&scoot-capable self-propelled mortars mitigate the problem (as does some electronic warfare against the counter-mortar radars), but this eliminates the classic strength of mortars; simplicity and low cost. A mortar-carrying truck could just as well carry a 105 mm howitzer, and course-correcting munitions could just as well be fired from a soft recoil howitzer.

Sniper rifles
Sniper rifles had a comeback since the 1990's in the West, initially for counter-sniping in Bosnia. There are two reasons why this object of fanboi attention may be obsolete.
The first reason is that the affordability of magnifying scopes on all assault rifles as well as machineguns gives regular riflemen almost designated marksman-like technical means to counter snipers themselves. The second reason is that most of the firepower of the sniper in a conventional war (not necessarily in a war of occupation) is embodied in his radio. A call for mortar fires or more is much more lethal than a single aimed shot of any sniper rifle. A third reason are the acoustic sniper detection tools that make snipers more vulnerable to counterfires, akin to counter-mortar radars and mortars.

S O

*: Great Lakes, Adriatic Sea, Irish Sea, Japanese Inland Sea
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