2013/08/30

Disconnects everywhere

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One of the lingering topic ideas for this blog is to write about the disconnect between how Western governments see the world and how Western citizens see the world. It's a gargantuan topic and I wanted to write about it only after at least having looked more at whether the current situation is unusual in history.

The current news have added to this topic by an order of magnitude; the British government is apparently so thoroughly disconnected that it even disagrees with its own parliament - its own parties' members of parliament. And this was not just a disagreement and different view - they did in fact run into a parliamentary vote disaster and did not even see it coming!
It's as if PM Cameron had slept for a decade and never heard of the "Iraqi WMDs" story.

 
www.theguardian.com

That future blog post is still building up in my grey matter, but I can predict with good confidence that it will have a conclusion in favour of more constitutional requirements for direct democratic decision-making.

S O
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2013/08/28

Assorted thoughts about Syria

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I was quite surprised when yesterday German TV news (a public station ) flat-out declared that a Western intervention in Syria was now a sure thing, as if there was no doubt left. Only hours earlier I had read about poll results showing a ridiculously low pro-intervention support among the U.S. population!

The TV news may have been up to something, as only hours later the internet exploded with blog posts, forum posts, op-eds etc. all discussing an intervention. There was probably a tipping point reached recently, I'm just not yet sure for what.

James Fallows' reaction sounds quite reasonable:

For 20 years now we have seen this pattern:
1. Something terrible happens somewhere -- and what is happening in Syria is not just terrible but atrocious in the literal meaning of that term.
2. Americans naturally feel we must "do something."
3. The easiest something to do involves bombers, drones, and cruise missiles, all of which are promised to be precise and to keep our forces and people at a safe remove from the battle zone.
4. In the absence of a draft, with no threat that taxes will go up to cover war costs, and with the reality that modern presidents are hamstrung in domestic policy but have enormous latitude in national security, the normal democratic checks on waging war don't work.
5. We "do something," with bombs and drones, and then deal with blowback and consequences "no one could have foreseen."
There's a reason why I wrote a blog post titled "We need to do something ..." six years ago already. This desire to do something when a situation is uncomfortable appears to be deeply rooted and not easily controlled. Sadly, warmongers exploit this and other human imperfections for their rackets.

 
The usual suspects came up with the usual opinions, and I'm no exception. The Syrian civil war is one of those "devil or deep sea" things, which is probably why it lasts so long and almost nobody intervened in force yet.

I'm not sure there is going to be an actual military intervention.* To set up training courses with special forces training selected rebel groups just behind the Turkish border might be a reasonable move instead (if one still thinks the U.S. military is any good at training Arabs).
Obama et al would need to be extremely insulated to not notice how the avalanche of reactions is overwhelmingly contra intervention.

By the way; it's interesting how more than just a few voices have been raised with a rather cynical tone, claiming that an intervention is necessary to teach respect. After all, Obama drew a stupid red line and evil Assad didn't obey / respect it. The supposedly planned intervention is supposedly not aimed at pushing for regime change, but only at punishing Assad's regime.
This view may be cynical, but also true - and revealing. These people imply that the red line thing was a threat, and threats are of course violations of international law.
 
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
These must be dire times, as I quoted this passage many times already. Guess its source. And again; bad, bad ally!
 
The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
That quote was used too often already as well. Maybe I begin to use the propaganda trick of repeating till it sticks? The warmongers surely use it a lot!


Syria is in a civil war which is going to end with some parts of the country oppressing other parts. I think it would be unethical to intervene and decide who gets to oppress whom. Some pro-intervention folks react with not very intellectual responses to such opinions; especially blaming suffering, beheadings et cetera on the naysayers. Guess what? That's going to happen anyway.
Some people believe 'we' in the West should side with the Christians in Syria. Well, that would mean to side with Assad, who supported Hezbollah, which skirmishes with Israel, which is supposedly the West's greatest friend in the region. The usual Middle Eastern mess.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*:  Still remember how often we were told air strikes against Iranian nuclear industry were imminent during the last years? This may be about the same kind of sabre rattling porn.
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Musings about small powers and their alliances with great powers

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Most countries are not great powers, but small powers. 
Some of them seek national security by being allied with at least one great power. Curiously, most don’t and still retain their sovereignty. 

First: The downside
An alliance with a great power usually incurs some costs including the risk of being called to help in a conflict. Such a disadvantage requires at least equivalent benefits, or else the alliance would be a political mistake. 

Protection against invasion?
Many if not most small powers in a written alliance with a great power are not at immediate risk of aggression today, and plenty of them are actually so very distant from reasonable candidates for aggression that the classic motivation can hardly be the main benefit: The alliance with a great power does not protect them against aggression, since there is no such threat anyway.

The naval view
Protection against an indirect aggression, such as severed maritime trade lines, may be another benefit. This is a curious proposition, though. Countries such as Brazil, South Africa or Australia may be very dependent on maritime trade, but there is really only one navy capable of posing an existential threat to it: The only navy which routinely deploys and sustains entire battlegroups thousands of miles away from home. The only affordable protection against such a threat is indeed to be its ally. An alliance with a world-leading navy may indeed secure maritime trade, but one should be aware that this is because it neutralizes the only major naval threat, not because one would fight side by side with it against the only major naval threat. This has important consequences for naval planning and budgeting, of course. It would amount to fighting off phantoms to still pretend one needs to build up and maintain naval strength once the only major naval threat was neutralised politically.

The nuclear umbrella
Another possible motivation for a small power to enter and maintain an alliance with a great (nuclear) power is to gain a seat under its nuclear (deterrence) umbrella. This clearly played a huge role during the Cold War, but we shouldn’t forget that it’s in great part the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which created this situation. Is the nuclear umbrella still a powerful reason for an alliance with a great (nuclear) power? There are today probably only five countries with a reasonable fear of attack with nuclear weapons in the next years: India, Pakistan, South Korea, North Korea and Israel. Three of these are nuclear powers themselves, and all five have had ongoing and irregularly lethal conflicts with at least one neighbour for two generations. Countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Chile or New Zealand hardly need a seat under a nuclear umbrella any time soon.

Demands on the small power
There is a recurring talking point about the relationship between junior and leading alliance partners: The assertion of free-riding. Free-riding signifies that one party enjoys benefits generated by another without paying for it. The application of this term in regard to collective defence is typically less restrictive and also applies to an incomplete compensation instead of only to no effort at all. Interestingly, nobody ever seems to accuse the most obvious free rider, Iceland, of it. Free-riding accusations thus don’t appear to be driven by morale standards, but by political demands for more benefits for the leading partner.

What constitutes an incomplete compensation for protection in an alliance? A country which is not threatened and thus could within the status quo provide for its own security with its current military power can hardly be a free rider in an alliance. This means that mere differences in relative (% GDP) spending levels cannot be a sufficient criterion for it. Maybe the criterion is whether the junior partner makes enough of an effort for its own security? This criterion is at times being applied to continental Europe within NATO, usually with the false assumption that it couldn’t defend itself without extra-continental assistance (against whom, the red horde of 1988?). Yet this criterion can hardly be a suitable one either, since the classic motivation for an alliance is exactly that united every ally needs to make less of an effort for his own security than if they were on their own. The entire free riding angle appears to be driven by faulty logic and feelings rather than by rational thought. 

The level of effort
So how should a small power determine its effort for national or collective security in an alliance if it decided to join and maintain it? It is a tricky question and the only final answer is probably to let democratic legitimation rule on the question: Whatever national security effort a democratically legitimated parliament authorises is at least legitimate, even if no-one knows an analytical rule for the optimum level of effort.

It’s in part so very difficult to determine the correct level of effort because the payment happens in more than one currency: It’s not just money, but also additional foreign policy restrictions and conflicts and notably, bodies and blood. It has been common since ancient times that junior allies contributed military forces to the wars of their leading ally. Classical Athens is such an example, but the Hun horde, the Roman Republic and the British Empire applied this concept as well. It has been applied in living memory during the Second World War, the Vietnam War, in two recent wars against and in Iraq and the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan, too. Small powers need to keep a wary eye on this, though: Historically such troops-contributing small powers were typically not sovereign, but rather vassals. There is a fuzzy line between being a de facto vassal and being a sovereign junior partner in an alliance. Official censorship and self-censorship come to mind as analogies for this.

Most discussions about small powers and their alliances with great powers have very different angles than this text. The reasons are probably some not mentioned yet underlying assumptions as well as dominant narratives. Rarely does anyone sum up the immense advantages enjoyed by an alliance-leading great power; the dominant narrative is typically about what the small power should do additionally. This coincides with the institutional self-interests of the small power’s national security establishment and this again may explain why the dominant narrative is so readily accepted by so many voices. 

S O
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2013/08/26

KFX-E

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Today's small power air forces probably have the feeling of doing the equivalent of preparing for the Second World War with biplanes - and don't like it. 
The "4th" and "5th" generation fighter distinction may be mere marketing or not - plenty has changed in combat aircraft technology during the last two decades, and 30+ year old designs such as the Gripen kind of feel like 2nd class: Fine trainers and useful against inferior opposition, but unlikely to prove useful against great power air forces in the future.

KAI concept of a T-50-based LO light fighter
South Korea may be up to something really smart; a fighter which incorporates the new style at least partially, but is still modest enough to be affordable in quantity (that's the hope). The Europeans have only modern combat aircraft designs rooted in the 1980's (Typhoon, Rafale, Gripens), Russia and China aren't satisfactory suppliers to many countries (such as South Korea) and the U.S. has only a not yet finished, but already very expensive ground attack aircraft with an untested approach towards air combat on offer (F-35).


The concentration in aerospace industries and the exponential cost growth for combat aircraft development have lead to a world with very few combat aircraft designs. China works hard on adding to the list, but that's not reassuring to certain countries. Back in the 1960's a bloc-free country had the choice between plenty combat aircraft.
A list of 1960's supersonic fighters in production:
 

Mirage III
MiG-21
Lightning
Starfighter
Crusader
Draken
Freedom Fighter (F-5A/B)
Phantom II*

Today a small power can buy designs rooted in the 70's or 80's or equivalents only. It's a very unsatisfactory situation for some air forces.

S O

*: I ignored Thunderchief, several specialised interceptors and the during the 60's obsolete first supersonic generation (MiG-19, Super Sabre, Super Mystère, Tiger). You need to draw the line somewhere.
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2013/08/24

More about armed bureaucracies

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Recently I wrote about Niskanen's budget maximising model of a bureaucracy.

Now let's add some more (knowledge of the model is advisable for this):

The model assumes efficient behaviour; the best actions are taken first. A bureaucrat is assumed to not undertake a '400k € value at 500k € cost' task before he has made sure a  '600k € value at 400k € cost' task will be accomplished, too.
This is actually not assured. The budget-maximising top bureaucrat may indeed fight for more power(s), budget et cetera with a tactic:
He leaves high pay-off activities unfunded, but funds inefficient activities (more is better to him, after all). Next, he goes to superiors, civilian masters or the public and demands more money, using the unfunded activities as arguments and claiming a certain need for additional funds, say, 2,000k €. His prey is only moderately involved and lacks detailed knowledge - and his bureaucratic superiors may even be complicit.
He gets additional funds, but makes sure some highly cost-efficient activities remain unfunded in the next budget, so he can rip us off again.


And thus air forces buy lots of shiny combat aircraft even as they don't have the budget to pay for enough fuel, missiles and spare parts. Armies rather decorated generals' offices before buying enough body armour. Navies buy impressive ships without sufficient missile or torpedo stocks for reloading.

S O

P.S.: I'm not aware if this behaviour has been modelled in some economic science model.
There are more factors pushing towards the same aforementioned results, of course.
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2013/08/23

About being a U.S. ally

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"The Strategist" blog appears to expand its tolerance for B.S., or maybe there's more to it?

The US is indeed Australia’s natural ally and we’re lucky to have it. But there’s a price to be paid to be a US ally, part of which is participation in wars led by the US. The other part is for allies to provide adequately for their own defence in their own region.

At first this appears to be nonsensical: What again is the benefit of being allied with them if it's a requirement to "provide adequately for [your] own defence in [your] own region"? There's not much they're doing for you according to this quote; protection of maritime trade lanes may be left.

I doubt that the USN can actually protect maritime trade on oceans, though. The greatest maritime trade security boost from being allied with the U.S. is probably from them not attacking your maritime trade themselves.

Which leads to my other point; the biggest benefit of being allied with the U.S. is to European countries, Aussies and Kiwis that this way they're not hostiles. You don't need to work against them (much) and you don't need to prepare for your defence against them if you're allied with them (or if you bankroll enough of their think tanks and have some control of their mainstream news media).

The provision of auxiliary troops for stupid wars looks like an outrageously high price for this; peaceful co-existence should be normalcy according to Western civilisation norms, after all.

Maybe the pupils befriend a big bully not because he protects them, but because this way he doesn't bully them?

Then again, I doubt that Mr. Molan has useful insights. His blog text was horrible and primitive. It's typical establishment talk, uninspired, features inaccuracies, primitive thinking and is apparently incoherent. The only good thing about it is the highlighting of operations and maintenance costs, and this will have a very bad aftertaste after tomorrow's Defence and Freedom blog post (which has been scheduled for days already).

S O
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War and peace, journalists and the intricacies of war

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(This text is not meant to claim 100% applicability, but I suppose readers will know areas where the observations apply.)

One stereotype of journalists is that they're hating war and seek out the horrors of war for reporting in order to discourage warfare or pushing for an end thereof. Another stereotype say they do it  because of petty sensationalism. It's probably both quite often.

The role of journalism as a whole in the 'war of peace' question appears to be mixed, though: Prior to a war they are very keen to relay rumours, assertions and doom scenarios - and I claim this is both because of sensationalism and because some of them really feel too much kinship with the power elite (or just kiss their feet in order to gain and retain "access".

There is thus at times a divide between effectively warmongering 'journalists' in safe, climatised TV studios and newspaper HQs at home and the at tims rather contra-war war reporters who then report on what war is really like (possibly after a jingoistic invasion phase with lots of mil porn).


The latter may under certain circumstances actually prolong and worsen the war by reporting about its horrors and failures, though. Sure, this is counter-intuitive and seemingly paradox.
(I love this. Trivial things are boring, but exceptions, counter-intuitive stuff and paradoxes - that's exciting!)

Well, how could they have such an effect?

Imagine this:
Some Western asshole sends troops to invade another country*, but the war doesn't go so well (it almost never does). The asshole's subordinates begin to understand that it's going to be a not worthwhile mess and begin to advise to pull out.
The enemy understands the same and happens to be smart (not a common occasion under such stress): They correctly determine that Westerners are about as fanatic about saving face as are Japanese, for example. Westerners are just not as frank and honest about it. So one of the quickest ways to peace is not a thorough defeat of the asshole, but to offer him (or her) a face-saving way out, a compromise which offers plenty spin material for the asshole, but doesn't hurt the defender more than a continued warfare (which is a quite easily-met criterion).
Now imagine the war reporter's role: What's more beneficial to this peace-seeking diplomacy? Exposing how aggressor forces get defeated and behave barbaric or avoiding to embarrass the asshole?

I built another counter-intuitive facet of warfare into my example, of course: Sometimes "winning" tactically may actually be strategically detrimental even if you don't alienate anyone in-country.


I really do love these exceptions, counter-intuitive and seemingly paradox stuff. (Recommendation: Read Luttwak's book "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace"). The obvious, superficial stuff is usually boring, even if attractive to the eyes. Rarely does understanding of superficialities (such as "longer spears are longer") win the day.

S O

*: It's difficult nowadays to imagine a non-Western country being the aggressor.
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2013/08/22

Extra long range torpedoes

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The technology-dominated area of naval combat has spawned a couple operational research-centric publications, amongst them Wayne P. Hughes' "Fleet tactics" books. There aren't really the rivalling fleets to make much use of such theory any more, though.

One thing to ponder about is in my opinion the extra long range torpedo. It was published last year that an extended range (export) version of the newest German modular heavyweight torpedo has set a range record of 140 km*.
This was certainly done with a low cruise speed** and even greater ranges would be possible with lower cruise speeds. The role of natural currents was apparently not published.

photo: Atlas Elektronik
Still, such a long range is interesting. It's interesting because self-deploying naval mines could apparently be developed to match this performance, and this basically means you could infest almost all notable sea gates (straits) with mines without the need for a naval or aerial delivery platform.

Second, there's the question of ambush tactics with actual homing torpedoes in such sea gates. You could tell your ammunition to self-deploy, and then let it attack the approaching targets as a wolfpack.
The obvious challenge would be the means of communication, since such munitions (torpedoes) will rather not keep a cable (copper wire or glass fibre) intact over such a long distance and they are also unlikely to have  LF radio receiver as do submarines. The munition would need a different, suitable message receiver and decryption.
The end result could resemble the (not very successful) ambush lines of submarines as used during WWI (North Sea) and WW2 (Pacific).

Third, torpedoes can be deployed easily. A container ship with torpedo launchers in outwardly innocuous long ISO containers could deploy hundreds of torpedoes or self-deploying mines during a night and it wouldn't even look conspicuously on a radar screen. There is very little defence against such a platform in the opening stages of a naval war, or when foreigners insist on business as usual in a naval war zone (as in the Persian Gulf during the 1980's). This may indicate that coping with the munition rather than with the launch platform may be the better approach (as is happening in tank defence, air defence, C-RAM and has happened in regard to naval missile defence for quite some time).


Munitions getting more and more capable up to a point where theory needs to adapt and invent some new approaches is rare, but it happens. It happened with the invention of the torpedo, it happened when artillery shell fuses became smart (proximity fuses), when cruise missiles appeared, when cruise missiles became accurate, when air/ground missiles became accurate et cetera. The more sophisticated the munition becomes, the more tactical variations become practical and the more focus has to be on defeating the munition. The defeat of the platform becomes almost secondary, if not irrelevant after launch (as with coastal defence missile launchers).
Luckily, there are historical and technical analogies which help navigate the uncharted waters of military theory.

S O

*: ~75 nautical miles. It's strange to see "km" in such a context
**: Maybe at a no-cavitation speed at which the torpedo would be quite silent, too.
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2013/08/21

Do they understand democracy? Or: Does it matter?

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I was asked whether I believe that Egyptian politicians understand democracy.

The context to such concerns is -at least to a German- the lingering assertion / diagnosis that the Weimar Republic was a 'Republic without Republicans'; without enough people who were pro-democracy in their heart and willing to support and protect necessary institutions of a Republic.


I don't think it's really about whether people understand democracy.

There are three different views of a state and country:

(1) The currently dominant (public) Western view; the state as an organisation which serves its citizens with public goods.

(2) The state-as-a-prize view as seen in Greece, most of Africa, Arabian countries and much of Latin America. Such countries have internal power struggles in all-or-nothing contests, and the winner gets to rule and exploit the country, favouring/bribing his political supporters.

(3) The state-as-a-tool-for-ambitions view, where the state's power is a tool to pursue ambitions such as domination, conquest, torment disliked minorities or simply putting the women back in the kitchen.
This view was shared by Fascists, Bolshevists, Neocons, Imperial Japanese, Ayatollahs, medieval rulers et cetera.

The point isn't whether these people understand democracy (unless they want to set up and maintain one in the first place). The first and most important question is what's their view of a state. 

You can educate an Arabian prince to a Master in law at Cambridge - but upon his arrival back home he'll be part of an organised crime regime which loots natural resources and distributes the spoils among its supporters in a feudal style.

S O

P.S.: (1) and (2) have some commonalities. Income redistribution from poor to rich (Republicans in the USA)) or from rich to poor (socialists) is one example, power-hungry politicians without real policy agenda other than their thirst for power (Merkel) are another. 
The important difference is that in (2) the "against each other" aspect dominates over the "same rule for all" or "national solidarity" aspects. Examples for this are African countries with tribes instead of ideologies vying for power. I added Greece to the list of examples because the obvious disregard for common good or efficiency and because of the obvious preference for rigging in favour of supporters there.
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2013/08/18

Egypt's ongoing revolution and outlook

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Back during the Mursi administration the Western media focused on his seemingly fast-paced effort to reduce the republic to a republic in name only and set up a dictatorship-theocracy.
At least there was still some hope for a happy ending, as many of his political moves could also have been interpreted as moves against the remainder of the Mubarak regime. I don't think there's a happy ending scenario for Egypt in the next years any more.

The Egyptian military isn't really a military. It's a kind of General Electric with many heavily armed security guards. The Egyptian military (army) doesn't only have is own factories for boots, uniforms, guns, ammo and vehicles, but also for civilian goods and services. It's a gargantuan kraken with tentacles everywhere. And its generals aren't generals, but top kleptocrats.
They didn't do the coup for freedoms and stuff, but because they were bribed to do so (billions of Gulf states money) and because they perceived the Muslim brotherhood and Mursi as a threat to their fortune. The "generals" would have done a coup against Mubarak if they were on 'team freedom and democracy'.
 
Pictures make blog posts more attractive, enticing and pleasant.
It's magic.
Now there's the likely scenario of the military staying in de facto power with a fig leaf of secularist civilian politicians who can get support from both the West and the Gulf states. There is not going to be an economic boom with much of the economy rigged in favour of military and political elite. There is not going to be a democracy since the MB will not be allowed to win any national election. There may be a civil war, but the 'military' has its many armed guards, can reactivate the old Mubarak regime connections and it has a sizeable portion of the population (secularists) as supporters (unless it alienates them), and rarely any government lost a civil war in such a configuration.

The other less likely scenario is a violent overthrow of the government by the MB. This appears to require a bitter, lengthy violent civil war. That's no setting for a move towards democracy. Why should the MB preserve democracy if democracy didn't preserve their legitimated rule? They would disrupt the society a lot and again there's no real economic boom to be expected. 


It appears that for the next couple years Egypt is messed up either way. The Egyptians have now the choice between the devil and the deep sea.

It is quite wise for Western leaders to not pick a side loudly. You cannot pick a 'good' team, there is nothing to be gained but you could be unlucky and alienate the future government team.


By the way; isn't it remarkable how Westerners have de facto no noticeable influence there? The influence of the Gulf states is more apparent. Call me isolationist, but I think the effectiveness of foreign policy for other purposes than having treaties of cooperation with foreign countries is vastly overrated in public. Plenty people have grandiose power fantasies, but actual events tend to disappoint such fantasies.

S O
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2013/08/17

Shotgun versus drone (video)

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I wrote about the use of shotguns against tiny drones. Here's a video of some guys who built a very rugged drone (bigger and higher weight share of structure than the ones I was thinking of) and tested the effect of a shotgun on it. They think there's not much (structural) effect, but the drone crashed after every good shotgun shot on it, and that's what counts most.



 Sven O
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When published opinion becomes public opinion

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Shamelessly ripping the graphics;

Public perception of federal U.S. budget deficit development

Actual development of federal U.S. budget
A whopping 91.4 % +/- a few are wrong about such a basic, central and much-debated figure.

This is eerily reminiscent of similar polls regarding Saddam Hussein's (non-) involvement in 9/11, about whether WMD have been found in Iraq et cetera.

I'm not trying to paint U.S.Americans as exceptionally poorly informed (maybe all nations are this poorly informed), but such stark examples are simply irresistible as examples to shine some light on a broader problem:
Published opinion forms public opinion which in turn correlates with voting behaviour and thus allocation and legitimation of power. The whole thing gets rotten if the root is rotten.

Also: Maybe the dangerousness, volatility and aggressiveness of countries is more dependent on the nature of its political "news" and opinion media than on notional government ideology, political system, history et cetera?

Sven O.

P.S.: This was originally a much, much longer draft, but I spared you the long rant about shitty media in Germany.
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2013/08/15

The operational level of warfare is useful

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There are some people and articles claiming that no such thing as an operational level of war(fare) exists. I won't link examples, for you really didn't miss anything useful if you didn't see those articles.

The question shouldn't be whether it exists. The tactical and strategic levels don't exist either. Or can you grab them? It's all made-up stuff.

The question is whether it's useful to use such levels as mental constructs, and I say yes, it is useful.


A great example is the development of European-style land warfare from1914-1940.
In 1914 land forces knew about the enormous strength of fires and about the resulting superiority of defence over offence. They just didn't develop a better answer than to bypass defensive positions, and this ceased to work when the continuous front lines reached from Switzerland to the seas.

Approaches for penetrating such defences were found by 1916 and widely known by 1917 (tanks, trained small unit manoeuvre infantry, sophisticated artillery employment), but this didn't help much at first. The army which launched an offensive was able to penetrate the defences, but its opponents were so quick at moving reserve divisions to the location by rail and foot march that all such offensives got stuck after a few kilometres.
Even the late 1917 and 1918 offensives which achieved greater successes due to war fatigue weren't satisfactory. The tactical challenges were mastered (at high prices), but their exploitation was lacking.

It was a distinctly different challenge to exploit breakthroughs and thus make them worthwhile. The attacker had to beat the defender in the race against the reserves. The re-establishment of the tactically so powerful front-lines needed to be delayed, the culminating point of attack had to be observed and to be pushed forward. The challenges were entirely different from the breakthrough challenges, and one would misunderstand the Inter-War Years' military progress if one had no concept of the difference between the breakthrough (a tactical challenge) and the purpose-giving breakthrough exploitation phase, the operational level challenge.

We could call this "breakthrough" and "exploitation" instead of "tactical" and "operational" in this specific case, but there are many such examples*, and it is the words "tactical" and "operational" which have assumed a meaning for use across very many examples.


It makes sense to use the mental construct of an operational level of warfare.


S O

*: Napoleon's corps converging and the joint battle. Athen's expedition to Syracuse as a whole and its two specific battles. (Notice how pre-front lines there was first manoeuvres, then battle, then exploitation while in the age of front lines the first phase was rather a logistical build-up of the force concentration and of local stocks).
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2013/08/13

Niskanen's bureaucrats

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Some more about Niskanen's budget-maximising bureaucrat this time:

The simple model describes a bureaucrat as a maximising character: A bureaucrat strives to maximise budget and subordinates among other things (such as power and recognition). This costs money - taxpayers' money usually, though that's different in some countries (Kuwait, for example).

In the beginning, there was no bureaucrat. The first bureaucrat got hired by the society, paid and having a great choice of possible actions, some occupation was chosen which paid back much more to the society than the bureaucrat's service did cost. The difference between his utility and his pay was the "rent" for society, its gain.
The story was quite similar with the next bureaucrats until at some point there were so many bureaucrats and so few choices of sensible bureaucracy occupations that the one additional bureaucrat did cost exactly as much as he was worth.
This is something economists like because it makes the model accessible to math (increment = 0). In fact, this specific bureaucrat with exactly identical cost and utility may or may not exist. Maybe he was skipped.

Budget-maximising model graph
What's important is that the bureaucracy wants to grow (its leaders want it to grow). Further bureaucrats are added, even though the poor choice of bureaucracy occupations means that these additional bureaucrats are not worth their pay.
The top bureaucrats get away with this, though: They point at all the utility generated by the bureaucracy as a whole and how this is (still) greater than its costs. They deceive away from the fact that some part of the whole is inefficient excess. Again, this is economic theory only, for in reality it's practically impossible to determine the utility generation properly.The model does nevertheless adequately describe that and why bureaucracies can grow too big.

That's not where the story ends, though. The bureaucracy can point at its net utility (positive society rent) up until the point at which an additional bureaucrat means that all the utility gains of the bureacracy have been compensated by its wasteful parts. The theory claims that the bureaucracy must not go beyond this point, or else it will be cut. Again; it's impossible to determine the utility gain and thus impossible to determine whether a specific bureaucracy is past this point or not.

This means that the 'feel' of it may actually explain the size of a bureaucracy. We tolerate bureaucracy growth until we feel it's become too large. This point may be anywhere - some people don't even recognise that the bureaucracy is capable of delivering greater utility than it costs ever.


This political economic model (Budget-maximising theory) is of great use when looking at national security bureaucracies; armies, navies, air forces, coast guards, domestic spying agencies, foreign intelligence agencies, national-level police agencies.
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The current series of NSA scandals is an almost humorous example for this: The NSA and other intelligence agencies sprawled and - under cover of secrecy - escaped the judgement of their cost/benefit ratio. According to the model, they may very well have grown past the point of negative net benefit. This doesn't only apply to its size and budget, but also to its thirst for power(s).
Its defensive behaviour was predictable; the thirst for power(s) and budget requires it to fight for as much as it can get. A voluntary withdrawal is almost unheard of.

(Another economic model, the principal agent problem, can also help to explain the mess.)

We can expect such overreach outcomes according to Niskanen's model whenever the public has no clue about the policy. This doesn't even require formal secrecy as evidenced by the cancer-like spread of subsidies and other benefits for farmers in Germany*.


All in all, it's from an economic theory point of view unreasonable to trust a spy agency in its defence of its powers or a military in its defence of its budget. It's almost assured that both operate well past the optimum and instead grab as much money, powers, personnel or ship hulls as possible.


S O

P.S.: I understand that some people will seize on this as it supports their "small government" ideology. Let me be clear: I'm for "good government", not "small government". "Small government" is lazy, simplistic ideology for people who are easily exploited by the group nowadays known as "the 1%". "Small government" is basically a rallying cry for crony capitalism.

*: Read the German mineral oil taxation law if you don't get this reference.
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2013/08/09

Assassination as defence strategy

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One of the mysteries of military history which I am unable to decipher is why assassination was so uncommon.

In theory, it should be possible (and at least a worthwhile option) to threaten an aggressive leader with assassination in case he attacks one's country. The legend of Gaius Mucius Scaevola is a rare example of this actually being used as an option.

I understand assassination was frowned upon between kings; they effectively banned it in their collective interest. To resort to it as a tool in a crisis would not have helped, since he outrage about the act would only have added enemies and would have diminished options for exile.

Yet why did societies not involved in this not come up with much more assassinations while facing aggression by a power with centralised power and possibly an entire ruler's family to aim at?

Why do errorists wage a campaign aimed at scaring and killing randomly, instead of executing an assassination campaign against foreign political opponents? There are hundreds of warmongers, think tankers, politicians, war profiteer CEOs to aim at - it's impossible to protect them all. This mystery is even deeper since the U.S. is already waging an assassination campaign against some of its enemies - which for this reason don't need to fear any additional retaliation at all.
OK, maybe the point of errorists isn't to 'win' by forcing their enemy into passivity, but to keep the troubles going. Still, why aren't assassination attempts against entire ruling elites the normal reaction to aggressions?

Are motivations of defenders too primitive for such aimed action, is assassination too frowned upon, is it too difficult to pull off and the smart-enough ones prefer to not risk their lives?


Would it be possible to establish assassination as a strategic deterrence strategy for a small power?

Could a series of almost-assassinations with intentional duds or intentionally non-lethal dosages serve as a warning when an international crisis heats up? Could this be enlarged by aiming at economic targets instead of natural persons alone? What would it take to become credible in this regard other than successful mock assassinations?

Could such a deterrence strategy be widened towards prevention and preemption? Imagine warmonger politicians dying of heart failure and genius generals dying in car crashes.

Maybe this could be done less conspicuously with character assassinations; the same people likely do something which the public would disapprove off - maybe visits by high-priced escorts?



All in all, I wonder why deterrence and defence are so very much military-centric, instead of aiming more directly at the real troublemakers (the aggressive powers that be) rather than their proxies (the attacking troops).



The conclusion's line of thought should not be alien to long-time Defence and Freedom readers.
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2013/08/08

Frugality and modesty

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When technological progress allows for greater weight efficiency, authorities prefer higher performance (at the old high weight) over keeping the performance and cutting the weight.

This is just another example:
By Matthew Cox, military.com

The virtues of frugality and modesty could help us with many problems and save us many wasteful expenses, but they are also against bureaucratic instincts.

This means there's an opportunity for being superior to your adversary; break free off bureaucratic instincts like these, and pursue neglected approaches and virtues - such as modesty and frugality.

Another classic example is development of high technology big ticket items (say, fighter jets). The costs explode for every per cent performance engineers squeeze out of the design. A 90% performance solution can easily cost less than half of a 95% performance solution and a 100% performance solution may be technologically impossible (unless you extend the program for a decade or two).
 
Still, the frugal and modest enough 90% solution is terribly unpopular. This phenomenon worsened since military procurement became so very much broken that big ticket items have become all-or-nothing affairs. The British and French were still able to go for a 90%, frugal SEPECAT Jaguar attack aircraft design when it was merely one of several modern combat aircraft types in their inventories. This didn't work so well with the Typhoon and Rafale any more, and today's F-35 is basically a 100% solution in some regards (avionics) while irritatingly being a 80% solution in others (flying).

Frugality and modesty can only help us if there's a stern and decisive, competent and benevolent oversight over the bureaucracy. And it's only possible to stay frugal and modest with a lot of self-discipline.
Both good oversight and good self-discipline are in very short supply in Western defence establishments.


S O
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2013/08/07

On reasoning and reading in general

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Back when I studied at the university I learned many important lessons, amongst them this one:

Difficult issues are often under influence by many relevant factors. This may be as many as ten for a seemingly simple policy question, for example. To overlook a single factor may lead to a 180° wrong conclusion.
And it's really difficult to account for all those factors. People without many years of learning in the area of research have almost no chance to account for all of them and can almost exclusively be correct by chance.

Experts who should know all relevant factors don't necessarily, or don't want to necessarily, though. Sometimes theory hasn't advanced enough to discover all factors and at other times the expert is a partisan and prefers a certain conclusion. This may lead him subconsciously to ignore the factors which could keep him from reaching the desirable conclusion. The economist G. Mankiw is a fine example for this; he is rarely wrong in his claims about factors, but he very often ignores something important which doesn't suit his preferences.*


What's my track record for taking into account all factors and ignoring none?
I'm the last one to know. I don't know what I don't know and nobody can spot the own subconscious deficits.

I would thus like to refer to my mosaic analogy; never pay most attention to conclusions. Don't mistake sources as necessarily all-wrong or all-correct. Develop your ability to pick the gems from the noise and consider blogs such as this one as sources which provide both noise and gems, and use the gems to approach a full accounting of the relevant factors.


S O

*: He promoted this, for example. The conclusions are all-wrong because the data ignores real productivity growth and is thus totally distorted. It is not enough to merely take inflation into account when looking at income distribution questions.
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2013/08/06

[Deutsch] Überwachungsstaat

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(German video, no English version available. It's a contra surveillance state video.
To Americans and Englishmen: This is how the German language sounds if one speaks it really quickly. Still no screaming as in American-/English-made caricature/comedy German.)
 
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2013/08/05

A permanent challenge for societies (III)

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By Hilary Andersson BBC News, Washington 

Tamerlan Tsarnaev subscribed to publications espousing white supremacy and government conspiracy theories.

(...) discovered that Tamerlan Tsarnaev possessed articles which argued that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were government conspiracies.
Another in his possession was about "the rape of our gun rights".
Reading material he had about white supremacy commented that "Hitler had a point".
 
A spokesperson for Tamerlan's mosque in Cambridge, Nicole Mossalam, said Tamerlan only prayed there occasionally. She portrayed him as an angry young man who latched onto Islam.
"As far connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity….all of those were pretty much lacking.
"I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience," she said.

This hasn't made the news nearly as much as the hints towards a radical faith-related motivation and I don't expect American news to pick this up much. It doesn't matter anyway, for science has already proved that corrections generally have negligible beneficial effect on opinions on the matter.


This description of T.T. sounds a lot like the description of an asshole - a (deceased) dangerous idiot.

This is but one piece of an overall picture, and the picture as I interpret it tells "societies are in a perpetual struggle against dangerous idiots, and the fashion de jour followed by dangerous idiots is really only a superficiality".

The stupid "War on Terrorism" should be a "Containment of dangerous idiots".

related:

The big problem is of course that such loser-outsiders are merely scratching us, but dangerous idiots who made it into the system of power are the real threat. They're the ones who push countries into total surveillance, reintroduce torture, push for wars of aggression, politicise justice, rig elections and in worst case they overthrow democracies.
They're the really dangerous ones. Those loser types are no more dangerous than bus drivers.

S O
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The battlefield air defences service ceiling issue

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Long-time readers may remember that my emphasis on battlefield air defences is usually twofold

(1) integration with C-RAM (counter-rocket/artillery/mortar) capability and thus a connection or overlap  with artillery radars

(2) Importance of low level air defence against drones, for a Typhoon or Raptor fighter won't swoop down from 15+ km altitude to deal with a bird-like 1 kg drone at 300 m altitude.


This time I'll write about something different; the service ceiling.

High altitude air/ground attacks on deployed ground forces haven't been particularly promising to combat aircraft until the 90's. A SA-6 battlefield air defence screen was formidable even in face of the reinforced Israeli Air Force of 1973. This 'Kub' missile had an effective service ceiling of 7,000 m.

Modern combat aircraft pilots can shrug at this. Their infrared sensors have difficulties at such altitudes, but their radars don't. They could still detect plenty valuable ground targets and engage them effectively unless the hostiles on the ground hide and deceive well or are assisted by favourable terrain (settlements).

Many battlefield air defences are still rooted in the Cold War and do not account for this.

All ManPADS  and ManPADS lookalikes (Stinger, RBS 90 et cetera) don't even reach as high as 7 km.
All gun systems don't even reach up to 7 km, including the very few 76 mm proposals.
All dogfight missiles on ground launchers (Sidewinder, PL-9C et cetera) don't reach that high either.
Roland, Crotale, Jernas are weak at altitude as well (at most 7 km).

Here are some which reach or supposedly exceed 10 km effective ceiling, albeit the area protected at this altitude is questionable and the missiles may be no practical or reliable defence at this altitude:

Tunguska missile (9M311M): up to 10,000 m
MBDA MICA VL: more than 10,000 m
RBS 23 BAMSE: more than 15,000 m

(I doubt the RBS 23 claim; it's probably the maximum ceiling for a vertical flight, not maximum service ceiling.)

As a consequence, ground forces facing capable modern air power need at least one of five things
(a) really good hiding/deception and favourable terrain
(b) good enough information about presence and absence of aerial threats to synchronise exposure times with the absence of aerial threats
(c) area air defence missile cover (Patriot, SA-17, Aster et cetera).
(d) a hard kill air defence which defeats incoming munitions even though it's unable to intercept the launch platforms at high altitude
(e) fighter cover

(a) and (b) not satisfactory for mobile warfare. (c) and (d) are unlikely at least during mobile warfare phases. (e) is only a temporary feature; permanent combat air patrol coverage over manoeuvre formations is unlikely if the opposing forces are capable.


Modern air power cannot easily or magically wipe out entire brigades in European terrain, but modern and well-financed ground forces should want to mitigate the threat somewhat. I suppose the absence of area air defences on the battlefield (likely, though not ensured) means that (e) - hard kill defences - will probably be more important than battlefield air defences engaging manned fixed wing aircraft themselves.

The challenge is probably not C-RAM, but C-RAMBM (counter rocket artillery mortar bomb missile) or shorter C-M (counter munitions, an entirely made-up acronym). MI (munitions interception) would be fine if this wasn't in use for an oxymoron already.


Modern battlefield air defences should thus strive to have two things
(1) gun-based systems to defeat low-level drones from sparrow to 100 kg size up to about 2 km ceiling
and
(2) a system with cheap missiles (automatic command control) to defeat incoming munitions and bigger drones, probably similar to Iron Dome and RBS-23. The practical ceiling for this would be defined by the practical ceiling of the drones' payload (which may be a problem with drones using radar or radar/radio jammer equipment).

The footprint (protected area) of gun-based C-M systems would be necessarily unsatisfactory unless one uses really big guns (there was as far as I know an experiment with a 155 mm howitzer in the C-RAM role*). An integration of field artillery firepower for C-M purposes would be an even more astonishing integration of artillery and air defence.

An alternative would be to revive the 90's approach of trying to use Mach 5 or 6 missiles (such as the German LFK HFK L-2 of '97), but combat aircraft may operate at much more than 15,000 m altitude nowadays, even at supersonic speed without excessive fuel consumption. It's unreasonable to expect a manoeuvre element's organic air defences to detect and intercept such a threat because both radar and unpowered glide bombs have huge ranges. Even HV technology doesn't change this.
The Bundeswehr didn't follow the hypervelocity path with its IRIS-T project, but follows the 'agile missile' path both for IRIS-T SL and IRIS-T SLS, so the HV project was apparently not fully convincing.
I'm not fully convinced that the IRIS-T SL's approach of a high cost missile makes a lot of sense, for most of its targets (such as cruise missiles) would not cost much more, or would even cost much less (and the priciest targets may stay out of range, which is of course not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be had much cheaper).


Battlefield air defences are an area in which it's reasonable to expect Western powers to keep falling behind. The belief in Raptors, Typhoons and Rafales is too strong and air defence personnel isn't of much use for bullying, beating up and occupying small powers.

Advances can rather be expected from Russia (the classic), South Korea, Japan and probably both Chinas. South Africa used to be good at it as well, but they have no incentives for ShoRAD development any more. Germany keeps trying, but its projects are prime candidates for cancellation and not very imaginative. I wouldn't bet on CAMM either.

More importantly than falling behind in the the mere race for new and shiny systems is that the incremental improvement of Cold War-style concepts may fail to re-focus the attention of battlefield air defences towards munitions and drones, away from the ever-enticing classic target categories of manned combat aviation.



S O

The data in this blog post is based on "Jane's Land-Based Air Defence 2003-2004", a still useful source in my opinion. It did lack IRIS-T SL, though.

*: C-RAM capability claimed for the robot version of Panzerhaubitze 2000, DONAR.
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2013/08/03

Soft recoil artillery, and electronics-coined artillery in general

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"Soft recoil" mechanics have been one of the no-breakthrough evergreens for generations. Again and again developers looked at it, trying to make it work competitively.

Soft recoil lets the bolt (in a rifle) or entire barrel slide forward at the moment of ignition, so the forward momentum cancels much of the recoil. This allows for more controllable fully automatic fire (as in the Singaporean Ultimax 100 light machinegun) or allows for a much lighter carriage, maybe a much lighter platform vehicle.

The first notable and till today probably most successful soft recoil artillery piece was a pre-First World War 65 mm mountain gun. It was evidently useful, for it was still being used post-WW2.

A much more modern attempt was the American XM204:

A German arms museum (WTS Koblenz IIRC) has one XM204 prototype and its plate is rather dismissive, pointing out that it failed the very same way other soft recoil gun designs failed as well; timing the ignition. Range dispersion was intolerable.


Now fast forward to 21st century, and range dispersion is curable. Trajectory correcting munitions are fired at a point behind the target, and the munition deploys a brake (not real steering) at the correct time to correct the range. This doesn't change the left/right dispersion (I keep forgetting the terminology for this).
One method to determine the correct timing for the brake is to track the munition by radar and initiate the brake with radio command - this has been done with multiple rocket launchers. Another way is to use shock-hardened, very compact inertial sensors or satellite/radio navigation. This kind of trajectory correction can nowadays be compact enough to be built into a standard fuse (patent example here; I've seen even simpler-looking, actually-built devices). This leaves no room for great fuse functionalities, but it works apparently.


Maybe in combination with this the newest attempt to revive soft recoil artillery may actually make sense:

(0:43 sec; the forward movement of the barrel prior to firing.)

edit: Additional video, explaining it a bit more

As of today, the latter video had 1,528 views after almost ten months on Youtube. That's a rare case of an American company developing some gun and (almost) nobody paying attention. More videos here and here.

The accuracy of the launcher becomes less important if not irrelevant if electronics and movable surfaces have the last say on external ballistics. This is a bit reminiscent of fighter agility becoming less important since missiles have become very, very agile (ever since the R-73 innovation).


The possibility of using lightweight platforms for artillery ordnance is but one consequence of many. The electronics revolution in artillery is bound to change artillery a lot in comparison to 1980's hardware. This has so far not really happened, as 1980's and older equipment has been maintained and upgraded or new equipment based on late Cold War requirements has been introduced. The great fashion of the post-Cold War era was air-deployability and wheeled platforms. Neither aimed primarily at exploiting electronics advances, but at suiting better for occupation and intervention warfare.
Vertical launcher and fibre-optic guidance artillery haven't made it into service so far, both are apparently much sexier than superior in practical employment. 

Some artillery requirements which do deserve much greater attention and emphasis are in my opinion
 
(1) Super-quick reaction. A firing mission sent by radio to a computer needs to be executed within seconds, as many targets are fleeting. A howitzer of traditional design with only 50 or 60 degree traverse is too slow if the firing mission isn't within this traverse. The 1960's D-30 was superior in this regard. Most self-propelled howitzers have 360° traverse, but some -notably most on wheeled vehicles- don't.

(2) Ability to hide behind concealments such as buildings without great impediment of capability. Traditionally this has been an issue about maximum elevation angle; the upper angle group (45-70°) that's now standard for howitzers was early on in part a requirement for enabling fire from within woodland (clearances, from woodland roads et cetera). Nowadays we could have a simple camera sensor looking all-round and determining the actual horizon (such as 3,600 traverse/minimum elevation combinations) and transfer the info to artillery fire control centre so it can have all SPGs hidden, but also arrange for sufficient area coverage of the fields of fire. This is behind the scenes stuff, of course.

(3) Covert, camouflaged AND deceptive modes.
covert - looking like a mobile civilian object, such as an abandoned long ISO container
camouflaged - classic approach, but not necessarily woodland camo. Settlement environments should be considered for camo pattern. A reduced radar cross section might also help against aerial ground moving target indicator radars.
deceptive - look like a stationary object (such as a hut), and on road marches even tracked SPGs should not be identified as tracked vehicles by ground moving target indicator radars (which can usually tell tracked from wheeled).

Some old requirements such as NBC protection (air filter and internal overpressure compressor) may be unnecessary now, but it shouldn't hurt too much to keep an upgrade option for it ("equipped for, but not with").

I mentioned before that the ban on most cluster munitions in most countries is a powerful argument for going back to smaller calibres, such as 105-122 mm (more efficient in terms of fragmentation-saturated area to HE shell weight).


related: 2011-10 "An article about artillery",
Defence and Freedom's general arty blog post

edit 2015: http://www.mandusgroup.com/downloads/Hawkeye_105mm_Brochure.pdf
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