Thoughts on years lost

I watched a music video compilation of 'best' pop songs of the year 2000 recently, and I have to say unlike some early 90's songs the pop songs of 2000 did age rather well. It certainly was a fine summer.

What struck me was a comment on the video, though:
"best thing about this year is that it was before 9/11"

So true.
It's difficult to find anything that changed to the better for Europeans since (save for internet connection speed), but it's very easy to compile a long list of things that turned to the worse. This is due to both the allergic overreaction to 9/11 and the bursting of several economic bubbles in the Western world.

So basically what happened is that the people of the Western world failed to keep what they had; peace, prosperity, calmness, confidence. 

The failure wasn't exogenous, it was not some natural disaster. It was man-made, and thus should trigger learning to avoid a repetition under similar circumstances.

There are developed countries with little if any bubbles in their economy for decades, so it's possible to get this under control. The allergic overreaction on the other hand - that's a difficult one. I suppose this requires to elevate the right people into positions of prominence in politics and media.


P.S.: This was originally written in 2016, I just held it back for months. Now I am additionally concerned about what consequences these years will have in the long term. The direction the Western World is heading to may seem promising to some, but I have rather mixed expectations. Another lost decade isn't unlikely. That would be two lost decades for some countries, others had earlier problems and may experience a third lost decade in a row. There's much more potential for the advance of societies.


German military expansion till 2032?

Just so foreign readers take notice; there are kinda official rumours about an enlargement of the German military with planning horizon 2032 or so. These rumours follow a change in long term federal budget plans that points at growing military spending. A reorientation towards collective deterrence is obviously the current fashion, though I doubt that this is instead of the great power games like the Mali mission. Judging by the current minister I and what remarks and attitudes have become known I would rather expect the serious collective deterrence thing to be an addition rather than mostly a change of direction. Such a military expansion would also have the ugly side effect that we'd be better equipped for participation in bollocks like the invasion of Iraq in 2003.*

The info is unspecific and not definitive (all of those plans may become meaningless this autumn because of elections) and what few details have been given don't sound particularly realistic (for example way too many artillery battalions planned).

This is no news blog, so I won't write much about these rumours at this early stage. 

Those who can read German may want to read the "Augen geradeaus!" blog's posts on the topic if they didn't do so yet:




*: That,'s also an ugly side effect of my proposals, of course.
What matters more in this context is the minister's attitude to such great power games. The minister did not yet learn the lesson that Chancellor Merkel learnt in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and thus should be considered a chickenhawk.


War doesn't work THAT well for Trump

I saw a seemingly viral picture claiming that Trump's bombing in Syria pushed his job approval ratings greatly, and the picture claimed that war works.

Well, I didn't jump on this and checked the supposed source and see - no, it didn't work, at least not like that. The job approval rating was not impressed by martial stunts. The people in the U.S. are not THAT stupid.

(The cruise missile strike happened on April 7.
The MOAB stunt happened on the last day of the shown graph only.)


P.S.: I won't show you the pic with the fake claims. The mere exposure to a visualised lie already stands a chance of leaving an imprint in memories.

The Syria ‘Chemical Attack’: Cui Bono?

Cui bono – "who benefits" – is the first question an experienced detective asks when investigating a crime. (...)
The civilian population in a rebel-held town called Idlib was hit with poison gas. Dozens of civilians, including children, died a miserable death. Who could do such a thing? The answer was obvious: that terrible dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Who else?
And so, within a few minutes (literally) the New York Times and a host of excellent newspapers throughout the West proclaimed without hesitation: Assad did it!
No need for proof. No investigation. It was just self-evident. Of course Assad. Within minutes, everybody knew it.
 The Syria ‘Chemical Attack’: Cui Bono? by Uri Avnery, April 15, 2017 


Planning and plans

"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable."
"I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning."
These are two Eisenhower quotes, and they point at one of the most important things in the conduct of military operations and they preparation for warfare by the officer corps.

It is of great importance to have red teaming (trying to figure pout possible hostile actions) and to understand the terrain, forces and especially the possible routes and their characteristics. It's very useful to calculate in advance whether something may possibly work out well.
This is essential about planning.

What's not essential is the detailed plan, for

"The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon's saying: "I have never had a plan of operations." Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force."
That was Moltke the Elder speaking.

I think these insights should guide what to expect from campaigns, how to design staffs from (manoeuvre) battalion to theatre level, doctrine and training of staff officers and COs in general.

The biggest challenge is probably not how to say or write a sufficiently concise order, but how to transfer the insights gained from meticulous planning to the actual leaders. 

Imagine officers looking at three possible routes. They learn there's swampy terrain left and right of the road, another route has Central European noise emissions walls left and right and the third one has woodland left and right - visible on a map and seemingly indicating an obstacle there, but actually the woodland allows even heavy lorries to pass. A quick look might have made the 3rd route look worst, when in reality it's the one that's ceteris paribus the best one. That insight is a result of the planning, but how to communicate it best among hundreds of other things is not trivial at all, particularly if there's only 30 minutes for a briefing about 50 different insights.

Planning should also include a coordination of callsigns, map updates, radio frequencies et cetera - things that commanding officers don't necessarily need to know about and thus I suppose they shouldn't be so much part of an order to the CO as simply included in orders directly given to his staff. No CO reads stuff that's not relevant to him when he or she is in a hurry. 

I've read doctrines of several countries' land forces on how to do staff work and orders* and I've never seen any such doctrine guided by the insight that planning is important, while plans don't last long and thus don't mean much. Nor have I seen much emphasis on letting manoeuvre forces commanders react to developments quickly and by being on the spot themselves.** It was often written in old (1920's to 1950's) German writings on the subject, but the attitude seems to have shifted hugely after decades of peace in Europe and bombardment of infantry-centric or otherwise low quality Third World ground forces.

There seems to be an exaggerated belief in plans - maybe because real warfare didn't quite challenge this belief. It might do so in the future, though.


*:  Honestly; I read none from page one to last page. 
**: I have seen much lip service that was crowded out by undue emphasis on the topic of plans.


No link between cause and effect required

Over at MilPub FDChief wrote
"The possibility that the idiot Trumpkins think they can "solve" [the North Korea issue] makes my blood run cold..."

And my reply grew so long and fundamental that I decided to write it here instead:

I don't think they want to solve anything. Some people aren't in the business of solving problems. They are in the business of rearranging things so they please them.

That's not necessarily a solution, nor necessarily for a better life in objective terms.

More like a cat thinks that this cop really doesn't belong on the table - bam on the floor it is. Trump et al (including many of his voters) may be the kind of people that think governments such as the one in Iran, the one in NK, or the one in Germany for that matter should be treated with a certain attitude and disrespect - kinda like dogs think that tree really needs to have their own smell of piss now.

The idea that everyone is seeking solutions to better life, "to form a more perfect union" or any other strictly objective, measurable improvement. Some people are really not about the end, but all about the means.

I see this in military affairs very often. People dream up fantasy navies and when I ask them to justify the expenses for this or that they have no clue what utility their fantasy navy would offer for all of its increased costs whatsoever. They simply don't require a link between cause and favourable effect - they just prefer the cause by innate preference.

Scientists and science pundits despair over the utter link between proven unsuitability of policy proposals and their longevity. "Zombie economics" etc. Proved to be a horrible idea again and again, still brought up as a proposal if not even as a supposed necessity again and again.

MilPub is one of the very, very few (moderate) pacifistic MilBlogs, so worth a visit.



'Crazy, erratic leader' deterrence and Syria

After a while of thinking about what Trump did in Syria I gave his team (not him) the benefit of a doubt and came to a possible explanation.

He did not tweet much about the strike, which makes it look a bit deliberate (though deliberation was likely a mere hours long).
He may play the 'crazy, erratic leader' deterrence play that the Kims of North Korea have been playing since the end of the Cold War.

The military strike makes Trump and his staff incalculable for future conflict, and thus creates some deterrence effect in itself. This is, unless it was agreed-on in advance with Putin*; in this case at the very least Putin would not be deterred from anything by the bombing.

I don't think Trump even only understands the concept of deterrence in its variations and details. He would only create 'crazy, erratic leader" deterrence by accident (or rather nature), but someone on his staff may have come up with it through actual thinking (though I don't think it was McMaster).


*: Which by now is a conspiracy theory or rumour only, though somewhat plausible considering the marginal destructiveness of the strike. The use of gas may have been unauthorised by Assad and the bombing an agreed-on scheme to save face and score points with the hawkish U.S. media plus it distracts from ongoing scandals and domestic failures.


Gerrymandering in the U.S.


reporting made sufferable by comedy


"NATO Draht"

Something small and simple for a change.

I leave this here because every now and then I mention this privately and it's handy to have the stuff compiled in one link:

Military 'barbed wire' isn't barbed wire any more, and hasn't been in decades. It's rather a stamped steel sheet. The exact shapes vary (multiple types can be seen here), but they have in common that
  • they're much more difficult to cut than actual barbed wire
  • they're usually stored and applied in coils
  • sometimes even a single deployed coil can stop a light AFV while 10 coils can be considered a convincing obstacle to all kinds of AFVs*
  • you rather don't try to jump over it with all of the weight of your individual infantry equipment
  • nobody likes to handle this stuff, it's a mess even with special gloves and tools
  • to deploy such obstacles is rather slow
  • its difficult to cut these obstacles silently, even with appropriate tools
- - - - -

I've heard different claims about how well such obstacles resist explosive charges. My personal guess is that 120 and 125 mm HE-frag shells should be satisfactory at clearing, while small charges such as hand grenades may not be.
A promising clearing method would likely be small continuous rod charges or linear explosive formed penetrator charges (there are linear shaped charges, so I suppose at >110° cone angle linear EFP would work as well, but maybe the linear shaped charges themselves suffice already).** I have never heard of either in service, so I suppose I'm either poorly informed on post-1980's engineer demolitions equipment or nobody really bothered to go much past 1940's solutions in this area.

I tried to check this, and the U.S. Army knows linear shaped charges, but doesn't seem to use them itself. Military engineer demolitions equipment really doesn't seem to have experienced much improvement after the 1940's, safe for plastic explosive sheets and the 1950's invention of explosive foxhole excavators.

Well, the least messy method of making a S-Draht obstacle trafficable may be to simply lay a bridge or carpet over it. Blowing stuff up may merely be the male-typical approach. ;-)


*: There's a rule of thumb in a German field manual, but I am not sure I memorised it correctly. A standard obstacle would be 3 coils, two on the ground and one on top of them - all linked. Nobody even thinks of trying to jump over or crawl below that without tools.
**: Bangalore torpedoes are more bulky, and about 2 kg of bundled or  stacked hand grenades seem inefficient and are no good answer to some other obstacles and structures that might be in need of explosive problem solving.