Naval air defence of the 2020's

Currently navies use ship-to-air (surface-to-air) missiles of greatly varying sizes, ranging from shoulder-launched man portable ones originally developed for ground forces to missiles weighing more than a ton. Extreme ranges of a hundred nautical miles or more had been achieved in the 1950's already, but only so against targets in line of sight (flying high).
NATO used Sea Sparrow, SM-1, SM-2MR and SM-2ER missiles and a few competing equivalents by the end of the Cold War, but nowadays the big commercial successes appear to be RAM, Evolved Sea Sparrow and Aster. All area air defence missiles are nowadays expected to be available in a vertical launch version that does away with unreliable mechanical launchers and allows for a quicker sequence of firing.
The trend goes towards much better guidance or specialised missiles against guided ballistic missiles, and as a consequence individual missiles can have appalling costs.

ESSM Block 1 launch
There is one outstanding program that may become a true standard: RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) Block 2. The original ESSM already excelled with its compactness, allowing four missiles to be packed into a single versatile vertical launch silo cell, unlike the French competition (Aster) that uses a too wide booster stage and is usually coupled with a vertical launch silo type used for the two Aster versions only.

missiles in vertical launch silos

Block 2 adds additional range (seemingly up from about 40-50 to about 80 km, but such published figures are unreliable and tell little anyway), more manoeuvrability and more importantly, a vastly improved seeker (active radar mode, semi-active radar mode and as I understand it also a home-on-jam mode, but the hardware would also be capable of an automatic command control mode).

The active radar will no doubt cost a lot (the missile may easily cost € 2 million in today's money), but it adds the ability to engage targets that are not in line of sight, but were reported through datalink by other platforms (ships, AEW aircraft). It also allows smaller ships to use this missile, for no dedicated target illumination radar or powerful-enough multi-function radar has to be carried for the target illumination as with ESSM Block 1's semi-active radar terminal homing.
The increased range finally may bring ESSM Block 2 into the range class of an Aster 30, which is recognised as an area air defence missile. In the 2020's an area air defence missile may be quad-packed into standard vertical launch silos. This may change a lot.

For example, ships specialised on the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission could still be part in the task force's area air defence plan with a substantial footprint (against very low-flying targets comparable to what 1990's dedicated air defence destroyers achieved). Their most substantial shortcoming compared to dedicated anti-air warfare destroyers would be a weaker radar suite, but this might matter little in a networked task force with AEW support.

ESSM Block 2 could thus do no less than end the era of separation between ASW and AAW frigates and destroyers in Europe without requiring the expense of very large (8,000+ t) combined ASW+AAW destroyers (as preferred by the USN since the 80's at the latest). A frigate of 5,000 t with all the typical anti-submarine warfare specialisations might still double as a powerful area air defence asset. The two paths would be joined through the characteristics of a (by comparison to a ship) tiny missile.
GP (general purpose) frigates may become dominant European designs in the 2020's instead of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none export warships as they have been so far.

A missile which requires no target illumination radar could also be fired from inside a container carried by a mere cargo ship, of course. This may particularly be used as a second missile defence layer. GP frigates surrounding a convoy could form the first layer, and the escorted cargo ships would be platforms for the second layer. The old layered defences with some extended range missiles such as SM-2ER as an outer layer in addition to medium range missiles never offered much depth against seaskimmer missiles. The "extended range" applied to high-flying targets only because their terminal semi-active radar homing required a line of sight between ship and target.

Important for the area air defence capability will be the actual engagement envelope. This is a very tricky story, even if we ignore the very tricky radar physics and poor reliability of published range figures. I take two graphs from here to illustrate this:

(note the waist: The smallest width of the dark brown area is the part of an air defence perimeter's circumference that the air defence system may cover well. This important metric is very different from the "range" figure and never published. It also depends a lot on the target, particularly its altitude, speed, changes of course and evasive manoeuvres capability.)

(this gap exists mostly for short range SAMs)

A missile with a published range of "80 km" may effectively protect other ships against missiles passing at a distance of 20 km at low altitude, but maybe the correct figure is "30 km", or "40 km". It won't be "80 km", though. At least the active radar seeker offers the possibility of engaging very low targets beyond the horizon (if the rocket engine offers enough energy for it).

The dual-mode seeker will likely retain the capability of Sea Sparrow and Block 1 ESSM to engage ships and boats. The damage done to a warship by the small warhead can be substantial and vastly degrade its ability to defend itself, as evidenced by two accidental hits of a cruiser by two Shrike missiles (which were closely related to Sea Sparrow) in 1968 and an accident with Sea Sparrow hitting a Turkish warship in 1992. ESSM has demonstrated its ability to hit small fast-moving boats and is no doubt difficult to defend against when employed to disable a warship in a surface engagement. Meanwhile, the Block 2 missile could with its passive radar homing capability be used to suppress a hostile ship's radars* for a crucial few seconds in a synchronised attack with anti-ship cruise missiles (substituting for an anti-radar missile) - if and only if the ship radar's frequency range is covered by the ESSM Blk 2 seeker.

This goes way beyond what utility the Aster appears to promise (assuming the Block 2 missile will be completed and be effective at all, of course).

One of ESSM's known strengths is its spectacularly small minimum engagement range. This is apparently a few hundred metres (possibly only in easy scenarios), while Aster 30 with its booster had such issues with short range that the Aster 15 version with shorter range and shorter minimum range had to be developed.

A very short minimum range may make dedicated short range missiles unnecessary, which affects the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. This missile has racked up an impressive reliability and hit record in test firings, but it has a possibly fatal flaw: It (almost certainly) cannot reliably defend against an infrared guided anti-ship missiles such as NSM. Its passive radar seeker capability is useless against it, and its own infrared seeker almost certainly cannot sense a missile incoming from the direction of a dawning sun.

The ESSM Block 2 may thus become an all-in-one answer to naval needs for defence against aircraft and air-breathing missiles for the 2020's.

Meanwhile, dedicated, very large and very expensive missiles such as SM-3 may be used to provide a defence against guided ballistic missiles and an engagement capability against low orbit satellites. Even a  10,000 ton warship struggles with the mass, volume, topweight and electrical power hunger of a long-range ballistic missile defence radar, though. Dedicated BMD warships resembling more a LPD-type ship than the more slim frigates or destroyers.
A convoy escort group could have one such BMD ship that also serves as replenishment ship and helicopter carrier (AEW helicopter) as its core among the escorted ships, and general purpose frigates surrounding the convoy with gapless overlapping low frequency active sonar search and area air defence zones. That's but a possibility, of course.

There will likely still be an interest in some short-range weapon, and I suspect the classic 76 mm naval guns with their extreme rate of fire (for a short time) would still fit this bill without the expense of developing and deploying some gold-plated short-range missile or a range of specialised short range missiles. Nowadays these guns can even employ guided projectiles.

SM-3 / ESSM Blk 2 / STRALES - a possible AAW trio for a well-funded navy of the 2020's. It could greatly change some warship categories as they were known since the 70's (and thus the face of European navies).

I didn't cover fighters / interceptors yet, though they will also be relevant to naval air defence. A task force of frigates protecting a convoy may have a flight of potentially helpful fighters nearby, but even four fighters would carry anything ranging from two dozen to three dozen relevant missiles, while a frigate flotilla may have two hundred or more relevant missiles. The fighters' utility could be larger than these figures suggest because they could by virtue of their speed engage the missile launch platforms (combat aircraft) instead of the munitions (anti-ship missiles), of course.

2009-04 SAMs with active radar homing
2013-01 Naval and air warfare; the problem with technology assessment (see the final part of this!)


P.S.: In case you wondered: No, I still don't think surface warships are relevant for alliance defence in the Baltic Sea and I don't think they're very important in the Mediterranean Sea either. Russian air power could wipe the Eastern Baltic Sea surface clean no matter what air defences the ships have. 

*: If and only if it uses the right frequency band!


Air Force strike packages and peer wars

Bombers on a bombing mission tend to be intercepted by fighters, and cannot really defend themselves all that well. Thus they get escort fighters. Fighter escort schemes got quite intricate back in 1944 already, and it was known as early as 1940 that the escort fighters scored best when flying offensive combat air patrols at some distance to the bombers (instead of in formation with them).

Bombers also face air defences, and as early as 1943 night bombers received support by radar (and radio) jamming aircraft (also using bomber airframes).

Tanker aircraft began supporting strike missions sometime in the 1960's, helping particularly fighters for a greater mission radius and for more fuel to expend during air combat (afterburners are extremely thirsty!). They also helped fighter-bombers greatly; for more range or for more bombs or for a bit of both.

Also during the 1960's "wild weasel" aircraft appeared; aircraft with not only radar warning receivers, but sophisticated passive radars to find air defence radars, and anti-radiation missiles to silence them (usually followed up by a more conventional attack with bombs).

Aircraft with large air search and track radars support the strike especially since the 1980's, sensing hostile aircraft at 300+ km distance, relaying the data by datalink to the other aircraft and trying to reduce the chaos (and thus "friendly fire") by maintaining an overall situation picture of identified friendlies and threats.

Finally, reconnaissance aircraft followed the strike to bring back aerial photography of the target, for bomb damage assessment.

Since the 1990's it's also possible to add radar aircraft that can map targets on the ground, which is potentially useful for supporting the wild weasels.

Since the 2000's independently flying decoys (example ADM-160 MALD) have become vastly more easily employable than their predecessors from the 1970's; they can be stored as munitions under the pylons of fighter-bombers.

The combination of multiple such elements in a synchronised strike operation constitutes a "strike package", and it's been the zenith of Western (U.S.) air power art since the late 1960's. The success of strike packages in accomplishing their missions in face of (usually old) air defences was the foundation for Western belief in its offensive air power superiority.

taken from here, a website explaining strike packages to warsim gamers

I mentioned a while ago that the outright cheap alternative is to simply use precision guided quasi-ballistic missiles such as Iskander, but there's an even bigger problem with strike packages:

Strike packages maybe do not work against peer air forces at all.

First, long-range air-to-air missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles are a huge threat to aircraft such as the typical large radar aircraft (example E-3 Sentry and E-8 J-STARS) which are no faster, no more nimble than airliners since their airframe are essentially airliner airframes. It's even worse with naval AEW aircraft such as the turboprop-driven E-2 Hawkeye and the budget solution Saab 340 AEW&C. The Russians strived to possess effective long range anti-aircraft missiles, and appear to have succeeded (S-400's 40N6 / SA-12, R-33 / AA-9, R-37 / AA-13 and possibly KS-172 /K-100). It's thus reasonable to draw scenarios in which AEW and C4ISR aircraft as well as tankers would be pushed back by much, possibly 400 km from opposing forces-dominated terrain. This fits poorly with their up to 300 km radar range, and greatly reduces the advantage gained from aerial refuelling.
An inability to support a strike package over hostile territory with an AEW system badly reduces the combat air patrol's efficiency and survivability. Fighters still tend to "see" little outside of a frontal approx. 110° cone. This used to be slightly better with 1980's and 1990's radars, but fixed, non-rotating AESA antennas have merely about 100-110° field of view. The fighters would thus need to support each other to avoid surprise contacts, which forces them into suboptimal formations.

The long range of air-to-air missiles (now the kind that's capable of taking down fighters; 100+ km range) also requires to sanitise almost an entire theatre of war from hostile interceptors, or else they might effectively still engage the bomb-carrying aircraft. So essentially offensive combat air patrols would be in very, very difficult tactical situations.

It's similarly bad with wild weasels: Even the public learned that Western anti-radar missiles can be countered well enough even by obsolete air defences (Yugoslavia 1999) to ensure that wild weasels can only do SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) well, not DEAD (destruction ...). The wild weasel's work is only done once the defenders have expended all their surface-to-air missiles or when the air war ends (more likely the latter). Against a peer air force you cannot really destroy the hostile air defences and then commence with the turkey shoot as against the incompetent Iraqi military in 1991.
Well, as mentioned, the fighters need to cover a huge area; theoretically the wild weasels would need to do so as well, which is usually impractical. The fighters would thus be forced to survive on their own or stay close to the bomb-carrying aircraft.

And then there are the jamming aircraft. They were based on bomber airframes well into the 1960's, but the modern approach appears to base them on two-seat fighter airframes (example EA-18G Growler), joined with the Wild Weasel role. The problem with jamming is that it's very treacherous. The opposing air defences could even launch a missile with a passive radar seeker and only when this missile is close to the triangulated jammer it would receive the command to activate a more common sensor for engaging an aircraft, such as active radar or imaging infrared. The survivability of jamming aircraft is thus very questionable. Curiously, all those people who love "stealth" so much rarely seem to hate the flying beacons called RF jammer aircraft as much.

Let's compare; a sophisticated strike package consists of
+ bomb-carrying aircraft
+ fighters on offensive combat air patrol
+ AEW&C aircraft
+ SEAD (&ECM) aircraft
+ tanker aircraft
+ possibly C4ISR aircraft
+ possibly photo reconnaissance aircraft

A peer air force such as the Russian one could potentially defeat through technical and tactical means
- AEW&C aircraft
- SEAD(&ECM) aircraft
- tanker aircraft
- C4ISR aircraft
which would greatly endanger the
- bomb-carrying aircraft
- fighters on offensive combat air patrol
- photo reconnaissance aircraft
because of persistent area air defence and interceptor threats.

The United States Air Force and the even more affected United States Navy appear to have understood this, hence their interest in stealth aircraft which - if not defeated by technical or tactical means - may offer a practical alternative to a sophisticated strike package even against a peer air force. The big problem here is in radio physics; long wavelength radars can detect all but impractically large stealth aircraft, and normal fire control radars can pick them up once they know where to search. Finally, there was never much hope to hide aircraft from infrared sensors (though said sensors can be countered by several means as well), and their effective range has been multiplied since the end of the Cold War.

Air power is very technology-dependent and at the same time still driven by tactics. Both usually only come to light once there's a war or secrecy becomes impractical for other reasons. 
Yet there are god reasons to expect that the technological advances of in particular Russia have defeated the classic strike package, and Russia may as well have defeated "stealth" (which by no is already really old). The opponent always has a say in warfare due to warfare's adversial nature, and it's not only "us" who have secret surprises in storage.

In the end, I personally are very much reserved in regard to deep air strikes against peer opponents. More likely than not only the most valuable targets would justify the expenses of such strikes, unlike the experiences from the 1960's till today against Third World countries and Yugoslavia's (small, largely obsolete and poorly maintained) air force.

A practical deep strike first month target list for a conflict in Eastern Europe would likely include less than a hundred targets; interdiction against marching ground force or supply vehicles at substantial depths (100+ km in front of friendly-dominated terrain) would likely not be worth the attrition. Bridges could be destroyed with guided quasiballistic missiles, but replacing bridges for road traffic would be easy at all but the widest rivers (not quite as easy for rail lines).

There's good reason to be sceptical about offensive air power; Western air power experienced too many easy and thus deceiving "victories" against  Third World countries.

2008-11 Next decade: Supersonic business jets
2009-06 Air war support & Europe 



Climate change and effects on GDP in regions

There's a published study - "Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production" - that predicts enormous loss of economic output in most of the Third World due to climate change. 

The effects look almost as if they were tailored to benefit the First and Second* Worlds and cement their dominance.

This was but one study  and may be falsified soon, but I suppose it makes sense to keep an eye on climate change / global warming as a shaping force that will change the world unevenly. It's almost as if some world-dominating sentient being was playing grand strategy games in favour of the already rich countries (and in particular against India).
It's fashionable to have "visions" of Western decline due to demographics et cetera ; the opposite would be appropriate if the study mentioned above is correct. The study does on the other hand lend support to those who predict gigantic migration movements from poor to rich countries.

Quick remark; I think they didn't claim that GDP growth would be due to climate change anywhere; such growth just happens (at about 1.5% p.a. in the Western world). They did ascribe GDP losses to increased temperatures, though. Reduced outdoor productivity, increased energy costs for cooling buildings, reduced if not eliminated agriculture, increased health care expenses, damage to infrastructure etc.


*: Second World was never a popular term, but it described the developed and so-called "communist" countries during the Cold War. I suppose today one could include the PRC.


Modern naval guns larger than 130 mm

It is apparently very, very hard to develop a naval gun of greater than 130 mm calibre and get it deployed on warships - and has been so for sixty years. The desire for a big gun is widespread, but one project after another fails.

The typical naval guns with ship-to-ship fires in mind are of 57 to 130 mm calibre, but nothin below 100 mm calibre is taken seriously as a munition for doing structural damage or opening the targeted hull for the sea.
In fact, historical experiences from late 19th century up to the Second World War proved that guns weaker than 138 mm calibre* were disappointing in surface actions. The first calibre proven to be satisfactory for surface actions was 149 mm, and it's likely safe to say that with improvements in shell quality nowadays the historical 138 and 140 mm calibres would prove successful as well. This is a quite most point though; the adoption of the ground forces calibres of 155 mm (NATO) and 152 mm (Russia, PRC) is the only sensible choice for a conventional large calibre naval gun.

Historical attempts to build large calibre naval guns included the 8" L/55 Mk.71 of the USN, followed by the 155 mm L/62 AGS and an even more ambitious, expensive and difficult rail gun project. Germany tested an improvised solution of 155 mm calibre.

There are several problems; gun stabilization (not harder than with other naval guns), saltwater exposure (this was troublesome for the German MONARC project apparently), volume and mass of ammunition in the magazine, mass of the gun system (metacentric height of the ship!) and ammunition feed from magazine to gun.

I don't think any navy absolutely needs big guns, but it's a striking example for how well-funded navies strive for 90-100% solutions and fail, usually getting nothing in return for decades - not even a 70% solution.

Here I'll show how simple and cheap this could have been had in my opinion:

Navies used to employ simple single 6" gun mounts on protected or light cruisers,
and this would still be effective in surface actions with automated gunlaying

(1) take a gun laying and stabilization system from an existing 100-127 mm naval gun turret
(2) build this gun again (or a similar one), maybe with chamber dimensions changed to the specs of army 155 mm howitzers
(3) mount it for a maximum elevation of about 18° to 43° - a turret or shield is optional
(4) install it on a ship, control it with an existing fire control computer fed with correct ballistic data, with different charge settings for choice.
(5) use 155 mm shells type-classified by the nation's ground forces already.
(6) store the ammunitions below the waterline in a lightly armoured compartment with appropriate (standard) cooling and fire extinguishing/rapid cooling installations.
(7) ammunition supply with a simplistic lift that moves pallets of each four shells + propellants, manual handling at the magazine and between lift and gun. Submarines succeeded in manually supplying shells to an exposed gun barely above waterline during both World Wars.**

Estimated time till prototype works well: One year.
Estimated time till certified: Another year.
Estimated program budget: € 30 million for eight ships equipped with one gun each,
including 15% profit for contractors.

The barrel length and muzzle velocities of this gun were almost identical to current 155 mm L/52 howitzers.

There is absolutely no need for automatic loading and thus no need for a high capacity ammunition feed, elaborate turret etc. because 155 mm is still in the weight range which allows for rapid manual loading - particularly if you give the crews modern strength and endurance training. The rate of fire could drop below 5 rpm for gun high elevations unless the power operation of the gun quickly depresses the gun for the loading drill and quickly elevates it again for the shot. I suppose 4-6 rpm, the rate of fire of late Cold War 155 mm howitzers, would be realistic.

Destroyers equipped with one such relatively simple mount (open, shielded or in a turret) would be capable of noticeable naval gunfire support, and could engage ships out to the horizon with it as well. Small and fast craft could be engaged at several naval miles range electronic using time fused HE shells.

Naval gunfire support and naval gunnery aren't really important topics, particularly not for Europe's defence. Still, the example exposes (in my opinion) systemic failures by Western naval bureaucracies. It would take a competent, "energetic" and stern political leadership to push these bureaucracies into failing less and getting things done better with less.


*: 138 mm was used on board of French large destroyers and 140 mm onboard of old Japanese light cruisers and some old Royal navy ships. Neither calibre saw much action, thus not proving itself. Common light cruiser calibres of WW2 were 150 and 155 mm (6").
*: Any naval officer who thinks this is not possible any more on a destroyer should be fired immediately for being too stupid to serve.


First link drop of 2016

I'm not exactly having a creative phase these days and existing text drafts are still 'unconvincing'.

Thus instead a link drop as a life sign:

some military tech to think about:

and in German:

historical Bundeswehr "training" videos:




"U.S. Radically Changes Its Story of the Boats in Iranian Waters: to an Even More Suspicious Version"

"This happens over and over. A significant incident occurs, such as the U.S. bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S. government makes claims about what happened. The U.S. media uncritically repeat them over and over. And then the U.S. government just blithely changes its story repeatedly, implicitly admitting that the tales it originally told were utterly false. But the next time a similar event happens, there is no heightened skepticism of U.S. government claims: its media treat them as Gospel."

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

This is a very old pattern, the USN does this at least since the 80's (example; the USS Vincennes incident of mass murder and violation of territorial waters = aggression).*

It's outright naive to believe them anything that hasn't been scrutinised for a while.


*: Now no doubt readers expect some explanation for this choice of words. (1) The leadership of the USS Vincennes wanted to murder two Iranian airmen in a F-14. The claim that this was self-defence is bullshit. An F-14 is no threat to a cruiser for want of relevant munitions and they knew it. The aircraft flew high and straight. (2) It's mass murder if you want to murder two people and instead kill 290 others. (3) The USS Vincennes was itself in Iranian territorial waters, violating Iranian sovereignty. (4) Furthermore, the typical account notes that several Iranian small boats attacked the Vincennes, which they didn't. They merely navigated in their nation's home waters and did not open fire on the cruiser. The USS Vincennes attacked them and hit two of them, which adds even more counts of (attempted) murder, since there was no self-defence situation at the time.
Imagine a Chinese destroyer violated the three mile zone off California, five US Coast guard boats moved to it and the destroyer opened fire, hitting two boats. It then proceeds to attempt to shoot down a F-22 that's no threat at all and ends up shooting down an airliner with 290 people onboard. That's basically what happened. Would you excuse the Chinese crew in this scenario?
Now the worst; the United States were in the 80's actively assisting the aggressor Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran (a country which had not attacked another country in generations), trying to avert the aggressor's defeat by a legitimate and legal naval blockade.
Well, and after all this the USN spewed a lot of lies about the USS Vincennes / Iran Air Flight 655 incident, most of which still linger and shape how people remember the incident. That's why they lie every time early on when they messed up; it's effective.


The post-WW2 infantry weakness in (Central) Europe

Back in 1944/45 the German army used infantry supported by many more or less heavy weapons (huge quantities of machineguns, whenever possible much artillery) to "hold the ground"on the Eastern Front. It lacked the infantry numbers to occupy all the ground it needed be held, thus Soviet offensive actions succeeded in many places until the Red Army was past its culminating point again and had to recover strength for the next offensive. By that time, the German lines were usually restored to some degree of order and fortified.
The Red Army's recipe for breakthroughs through such defences included huge quantities of artillery and mortar fires, and a ground attack of infantry and (heavy) tank assault waves.
The German doctrine required a defence in depth (10 km or so) and reserves for counterattacks to counter a breakthrough attempt, but both were rare and thus most Soviet breakthrough attempts succeeded post-1942.

wray.pdf, see page 15
There were some confusions about concepts about all-nuclear warfare in the late 1940's with ground forces acting as a kind of distant security force for nuclear bomber bases, but by the early 1950's when plans for West German rearmament were made the importance of conventional forces was largely reaffirmed.

One initial West German idea of an army among the planners of Amt Blank was about a large quantity of Grenadierdivisionen (= in this case motorised infantry divisions) with few Panzerdivisionen as reserves for operational manoeuvre and local counterattacks. This mirrored the structure of the Wehrmacht's Heer of 1944/45; most troops in the line, few armoured forces for manoeuvre. The returning economic strength (1936 industrial output was regained by the early 1950's) and increasingly obvious role of full motorization made this anachronistic (more armoured forces became affordable and manpower was increasingly scarce for the economy and thus not to be wasted in a personnel-inefficient army structure). More importantly; nuclear munitions made this anachronistic. A front line formed by badly stretched infantry divisions would be penetrated just as predictably as in 1945 irrespective of the quantity of machineguns, artillery pieces and anti-tank weapons per kilometre of front line.
By the mid-1950's this penetration wouldn't have required days or weeks of preparations any more, but a few hours; for the employment of "tactical" nuclear munitions in the 1-100 kt TNTeq range.

The only approaches that protects against nuclear munitions well and for long are dispersion and hiding. Infantry was better capable of this than armoured troops, but further dispersion would dilute its firepower and make it even more dependent on (nuclear) artillery support. Dispersion also required great depth for the desired defensive effect, preferably more than 50 km. Offensive action of such infantry would be very slow-moving in face of even light resistance.

In the end (by the 1960's to the 1980's), many military theoreticians trended towards one of several concepts that agreed on one thing: Much infantry, highly dispersed in great depth, fighting in platoons or even squads, and more reminiscent of very active guerillas than infantry during the World Wars or Western infantry in Korea. 

click this for a whole website full of similar maps
This was never really done in NATO. One reason was probably that the West German army covered but a few sectors, and it was never the intention of the West German government to provide 'cannon fodder' infantry to support the allied sectors in Central Europe. Yet keeping much infantry personnel in Central Europe was unaffordable for the Western allies, to whom such distant basing of forces was very expensive.
Another one was an old 1950's promise of Western Germany to provide 12 divisions for the defence of the West in Central Europe. This was already expensive in itself, to add a million or so of light infantry militia would have caused excessive expenses in a country that only began to fully meet civilian demands when economic growth slowed due to the exhaustion of the labour pool (mid-1960's) and soon thereafter economic crisis and structural changes did begin (post-1973).*

The concept pursued instead was a different one; save for 2nd rate territorial army units (almost all reserve personnel and equipment one generation older than the field army's) the West Germany army consisted of its dozen divisions, which varied in their composition to suit the terrain in their sectors. The divisions had more infantry in the southern sectors where hilly terrain with woodland on hill crests and hilltops and settlements in valleys was dominant.
These divisions lacked a substitute for a proper front line entirely. There was neither a strong nor a weak screen of infantry even in theory. Weak armoured reconnaissance units had to substitute for it somehow.

Badly stretched forces depend on long-range fires and air support against attacking (thus usually superior) forces. Tactical nukes were available to boost this support, but their employment was quite impractical actually:
Forces can and should move divided (dispersion), then unite for the fight. A 20 kt TNTeq nuke would hit a battalion on the march badly, but not even knock it out for good. That's how well dispersion helps against nukes. You couldn't drop hundreds and thousands of nukes without risking that the German troops just go home, seeing their country destroyed by "allies" - which would have made further resistance futile if not counter-productive (reds rushing through Germany would have reduced the nuclear damage done to Germany in such a scenario). Furthermore, hitting the opposing forces when they're united for a close fight would only allow for a tiny window of opportunity before they are too close to friendly forces for nuclear strikes in a fluid and seemingly chaotic battlefield situation.
So there was no proper screen practical for want of forces and nuclear firepower was of somewhat dubious utility. The German divisions' brigades were fully motorised and had to act and react with nervous manoeuvring, never truly holding much terrain in order to avoid being a worthwhile target for red nukes. This all but guaranteed the dominance of tank warfare since tanks were best-suited to mobile warfare.

The manoeuvring promised to mitigate much of the hostile nuclear firepower by 'hugging' the enemy (being too close to Red Army or Polish troops for employment of large yield nuclear munitions) and providing fleeting targets only (be gone and dispersed by the time a nuclear munition would explode).
Both this manoeuvring and the intensity of combat (as demonstrated by the appallingly high attrition tank warfare around Israel in 1967 and 1973) guaranteed a super-rapid exhaustion of the army in the event of conventional or mixed conventional/nuclear warfare in Central Europe. The army would have been wasted in a few days, and this was probably why the ammunition stock sizes never met the ambitions known from the 1930's and early 1940's (albeit largely meeting allied HQ demands).

Path dependency, economic (fiscal) restrictions and political commitments conspired to keep the conventional defence of NATO in Central Europe rather short winded and brittle, as well as dependent on air power (and nuclear munitions) for the defeat of the later "waves" of Warsaw Pact divisions. 
This wasn't unavoidable; it was the consequence of neglecting the (light) infantry approach to area defence. Austria did implement an infantry-based defence in depth backed up by (light) armoured forces in the 80's, and Switzerland showed how extraordinarily many men can be kept available as militiamen at bearable fiscal expenses and little manpower drain to the economy.

This path dependency is still in force, and we still have doctrines that keep brigades floating freely in the theatre of war without the benefit of either a front line or a net of light infantry that can shape the battlefield in our favour by reconnaissance, raids, delaying actions and counter-reconnaissance. Germany isn't at NATO's frontier any more, though: Nowadays Lithuania, Poland and Romania ought to provide this support, since the idea of raising and maintaining such infantry or militia forces far from the frontier for employment at the frontier is unrealistic.

This (hi)story is in part interesting because ground forces budgets that spent much on rather defensive militia forces would not have signalled aggressive capability (and unintentionally implied; aggressive intent) as did the fully motorised formations with their focus on mobile, possibly operational-level, warfare. Maybe we wouldn't have been close to a Third World War in 1983 twice if NATO's ground forces had looked less optimised for a strategic surprise attack past Warsaw and more suitable for slowing and tactically defeating a conventional Warsaw Pact attack.

Infantry suffers greatly from artillery fires, and is badly disadvantaged against massed tank forces and air attack. It's still much less brittle and short winded than mounted combat forces (armoured battalion battlegroups, tank brigades or mechanised infantry brigades) when employed as light infantry with dispersion over a large and suitable area instead of in rather predictable, stubborn ways (static defensive positions, long or repeated assaults at the same spot). The fundamental imbalance in favour of armoured forces for short and incredibly high attrition battles as 1967, 1973 and 1991 persists and constitutes probably the greatest doctrinal and force structure shortfall in Europe.

We could be just as safe with less spending if we had smarter doctrines and force structures AND these were recognised by relevant threats as smarter, thus yielding a sufficient deterrence effect.
It's up to the reader to form (or maintain) an opinion about whether the reasoning above describes room for improvement towards such smarter land forces. I surely didn't describe much original thought here; in fact, I merely picked up where military theory advances stopped at the end of the Cold War. Afterwards it largely turned towards the incorporation of ever more electronic gadgets (as begun with the Air-Land Battle doctrine and "Assault Breaker" concepts of the early 1980's).

*: It looks much more affordable once one takes Switzerland as benchmark, though.


Vietnam modernised the most badass-looking wheeled APCs

... a design which happened to stem from the 1940's.

I was actually a high technology vehicle back in 1950 because of its central tire inflation system. This allowed to reduce the tire pressure for driving on soft soil with less ground pressure. The shape and look was greatly influenced by the M3 lend-lease halftracks and to a lesser extent the similar German SdKfz 250 and SdKfz 251 vehicles.





It's amazing to see how long military equipment keeps at least some value. Heavy artillery pieces used to have the longest lives (up to centuries), but nowadays many vehicles and small arms from the 1950's are still usable as well.

The BTR-152's main downside (save for a late version) is its open top. This was deemed inadequate for a battlefield with NBC threats, or with airburst artillery and mortar HE munitions. It also happens to make these vehicles very unsuitable for quelling unrest, since a single Molotov cocktail thrown from a building would prove disastrous.
It's nevertheless much better than a soft lorry, the modernisation was possible with the fraction of the cost of a regular 5 ton lorry - whereas Western countries spend € 2 million and more for APCs (in excess of 20 x heavy lorries). We strived for a 95% solution, while they were content with a 80% solution and the price difference is outrageous.