A Western S-400 and its potential purposes

The Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system (a.k.a. SA-21 Growler) is famous and succeeding the S-300 as the preferred area air defence nightmare. S-300 sales negotiations make Western warmongers fear for their ability to incite Western powers to cruise missile diplomacy and other aerial bullying, already. S-400 is much more powerful - and much more expensive, too.

Most S-400 batteries are deployed around the air defence capital of the world, Moscow. The others are located at certain points of great interest to Russia. We would likely not see many S-400 batteries in a Russia-NATO conflict at the front, but most likely a few, since their unique capabilities are so useful.

S-400 is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, aircraft, cruise missiles - the usual stuff for an area air defence system. Two characteristic stand out:
  • a UHF search radar that can detect low and very low observable ("stealth") aircraft at very useful ranges because their shaping doesn't help against these wavelengths
  • a super long range missile (one type believed to have 400 km nominal range) that would force transport aircraft, tanker aircraft, Elint aircraft, jammer aircraft and long range radar aircraft (AWACS/Sentry, Erieye, Hawkeye, J-STARS, ASTOR/Sentinel) to stay at a respectful distance, minimising if not eliminating their utility to the opposing forces.
There would be several possible fields of employment among not very Russia-friendly countries for such a missile system, particularly the 40N6 missile:
  • Taiwan dominating the Taiwan strait and securing the first ~ 100 nm of a convoy lane eastward
  • Poland cutting Kaliningrad Oblast off regarding transport aircraft (and thus reinforcements in wartime)
  • Sweden dominating much of the air space over the Baltic Sea and over its North
  • Finland covering the airspace of its vast North
  • Japan securing its West and the Tsushima Strait against PRC air power
  • United States defending Guam, including against ballistic PGMs

The alternative to most of these would be fighter patrols, but even quick reaction alert fighter forces could not cope with saturation attacks and strike packages as well as a battery that can launch dozens of missiles in a few minutes. Either way, past about 200-250 km one would need external radar sensors (typically AEW) to exploit the range of such a missile.

- - - - -

SM-6 launch
Well, what do we have in the West? To my knowledge we only have the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile a.k.a. SM-6 in this category.

I'm not typically in favour of anyone buying anything from one of the big American arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, all three shipyards etc.) for they are slow to deliver, expensive and often underperforming. The only alternative in this case would be MBDA, though. They could use the Aster-30's booster technology with a modified (all ramjet) Meteor missile to approximate the performance of SM-6 and 40N6, but this would take many years and billions. So there would be no reason at all to ask it do develop such a thing unless MBDA would pay back much of the buyer's bill through taxation.

SM-6 can be launched from a vertical silo, and assuming that the missile can be stored for a while in the horizontal position (which is most likely) there should be little difficulty in creating a land-based version. I wouldn't ask for a complete area air defence system, though. A containerised launcher, a command & control container, a radio datalink (Link 16) container and an off-the shelf generator trailer should suffice. Sensor data could be provided by external sources such as AEW aircraft radar, warship radar, fighter radar or land-based radars.

This could still turn into a multi-billion nightmare, and I'm not talking Zimbabwean dollars here. The best course of action would be if Raytheon made such a land-based SM-6 firing unit design ready and available off-the-shelf, so merely IADS integration, certification and technical manual translations would be necessary development activities for a sale. A price of about USD 5 million per missile is bad enough - there should be no huge development expenses for a niche product be paid by the first or any customer.



P.S.: I resent Raytheon in part for repeatedly sending press releases out claiming that SM-6 did set records for surface-to-air kills in tests without ever mentioning the achieved distance. Deliver or don't claim!


The "Quick White Peace" approach

I do often imply a certain doctrine of mine (I call it the "Quick White Peace Doctrine") when I write about defence policy:

This doctrine contains three maxims:
  1. Do not launch or join wars of aggression
  2. Try to deter a war of aggression against your country or alliance
  3. If (2) fails, seek a quick white peace (and be prepared to achieve this)

(1) and (2) should be self-explaining and obvious, but the term "white peace" may require explanation. A white peace is a peace under which the status quo ante is restored; no party of the conflict gains or loses territory nor do they gain or lose territory claims nor does any part become obliged to pay reparations of any kind.
It's essentially a reset to the pre-war situation except for the damage done and the aggressor having learnt that this kind of war does not yield benefits.

The intent behind the doctrine is to minimise the damage done by war. To compel the aggressor into accepting more ambitious demands would require additional war efforts and would lead to greater human suffering and economic damage, but also to greater risks. Essentially, points (1) and (2) become effective once the defending power has reached the point where the aggressor would agree to a white peace; the diplomatic ending of the war serves the same purpose as did the peacefulness and deterrence effort prior to the war.

It's part of the "quick" requirement that the war should not be escalated unless this serves to end it quickly. A regional limitation of the conflict by the aggressor should be welcomed. "quick" does not include nuclear suicide, of course.
_ _ _ _ _

This leads to a somewhat weird optimum-finding for peacetime defence policy. On one hand we should want to spend just as much as required to deter, but on the other hand we should spend enough to defeat an aggression quickly. The ability to defeat a foreign power quickly (to the point of white peace) typically requires more resources spent in peacetime than to the ability to merely defeat an aggressor slowly.

My preference regarding military spending in the EU is on enforcing a white peace quickly rather than slowly and barely. This has the additional benefit of offering a greater margin of safety in the deterrence effort.

The consequences of such a doctrine are far-reaching and tend to yield very different outcomes than the pursuit of armed services' self-interest, to follow old paths or to pursue intuitively favoured "balanced forces".
The "How to fix..." series has shown this; usually I dispense with the unessential (which in the European context is usually the navy) and focus on quickly effective air and land power, backed up by cheap militias and possibly a single regiment for protection of the national government in the capital (akin to the German Wachbataillon).

NATO is a two-continents alliance, so we can have many forces optimised for the first weeks of conflict, with forces from the other continent or even only other end of the same continent arriving much later in force and adding a strategic deterrent against continuing a war past a white peace offer.

All luxuries should be cut mercilessly. The strategic Schwerpunkt should be on the ability to defeat an aggression quickly to the point where agreement to a white peace proposal is likely. This requires economy of force elsewhere; cut everything else that's not needed for this purpose.

Even slight inefficiencies in military spending due to having poor ideas or lacking the self-discipline to follow good ideas can cause an annual waste of resources greater than the entire debt refinancing of Greece and Spain combined. The current inefficiency of military policymaking in Europe is a huge ongoing crisis. Sadly, almost everyone seems to have become accustomed to this inefficiency.




The advantages of an aggressor

Let's take a basic model; two countries coexist.
It's impossible for both to be vastly superior in military power to pursue their own security. Only one can be vastly superior at a time, and the attempt to reach this superiority may lead to an economic  lose-lose situation. Even the case that one nation gains such an upper hand is messy; warmongers would push for an abuse of this power.

The most stable case would be if these countries developed armed services which excel much more in defence than in offence, so both countries would be safe if they have approximately equal warmaking potential. This is very difficult to achieve with modern military technology.

Reality is even more destabilising; aggressors have intrinsic advantages ceteris paribus.
Here's an incomplete list, which I expect to link to in later posts:

  1. timing (procurement): The aggressor can choose the timing of the procurement of new technologies in order to reach a technological superiority during a certain time window
  2. timing (season): An aggressor could train and equip especially for one season (such as wintertime), gaining a specialisation advantage during this season.
  3. timing (day): The aggressor can choose the first day of conflict to his advantage, example Yom Kippur War.
  4. concentration before counterconcentration: The aggressor can amass his forces in the border region and the defender can react to this only with a lag (detection, communication, decisionmaking, distribution of orders)
  5. choice of theatre: The aggressor can choose where to attack, and whether to draw small powers into the conflict. He may limit the conflict to a single region if it suits his strengths, or escalate widely if he thinks this would suit his strengths. The non-aggressive defender would not forcibly draw additional neutral powers into the conflict.
  6. unusually high readiness at day of aggression is possible: Aircraft, ships and heavy land forces equipment often have readiness rates of 50-80% in peacetime, but this can be pushed to 80-95% at a specific date, for example for maximum power available on the day of aggression. One example was Germany in 1940; the readiness rated of the Luftwaffe were artificially high in the days prior to the campaign in the West.
  7. strategic surprise: This goes well past mere timing; an aggressor can desensitise the target to the telltale signs of attack preparations by repeatedly showing these without attacking for real. This, too, happened in 1940 - the multiple delays of the German campaign in the West desensitised the French to the (often correct, but soon obsolete) intelligence reports of German attack intentions.
  8. aggresssor gains bargaining chips: The aggressor will likely make some territorial gains, which in the event of a truce will serve as bargaining chips or may even be occupied indefinitely
Most of these advantages cannot be mitigated fully, but at least partially so.



New poll in Germany

There's an interesting poll (by forsa, commissioned by the journal Stern) about defence issues in Germany:

"Sollte Deutschland seine Verteidigungsausgaben in den kommenden Jahren erhöhen?"
(Should Germany increase its defence spending in the next years?)

yes 42%
no 55%

Only supporters of the far right AfD and the liberal (pro-employer and usually pro-tax decreases) party FDP are in favour of increased defence spending.

"Sollte sich Deutschland militärisch noch stärker am Kampf gegen die Terrormiliz "Islamischer Staat" beteiligen?"
(Should Germany participate even stronger in the fight against the terror militia "Islamic State" militarily?)

yes 38%
no 56%

"Sind Sie dafür, dass die EU-Staaten eine europäische Verteidigungsunion aufbauen und ihre Streitkräfte zusammenschließen?"
(Are you in favour that the EU states create a European defence union and join their armed services?)

yes 50%
no 43%

I disagree with the majority on latter one, but that's for reasons of above-average knowledge on the subject. I suppose the vast majority of responders merely thought about the issue on the political level, where we learned that cooperation is a hugely successful approach most of the time. Sometimes it's not the best choice, though (same problem as with the common currency).

- - - - -

I have seen very an international poll about the willingness of men to fight for their country, with Germany ranking really low. I don't care about such polls because I think the reason for such a result is the feeling that we're not threatened. All the irrational aspects of readiness to fight only come into play once you feel that you or your community are under threat. Without this, only factors like grandstanding, versions of masculinity cult or a high esteem of the armed services will lead to a high rating in such a poll.
Regardless of what certain nutjobs all over the world claim, Germany is not in any real trouble, particularly not by external threats (including immigration).

Foreign "threats" are little more than bogeymen that scare the simple-minded ones, with a fig leaf of basis in reality. The polls above show that Germans aren't easily scared by bogeymen, unlike many other countries and the German far right.



A security treaty for the East Asia - North Pacific region

Let's first have a quick look at the security situation of the pro-Western countries in East Asia:

Cannot withstand PR Chinese airpower, its navy cannot protect maritime trade lanes against PR Chinese air and sea power, and its rather neglected army is unimpressive. The biggest threat is still the threat of an amphibious invasion, for Taiwan could keep resisting blockade and a non-nuclear bombardment for years. The greatest security hope is that the USN would intervene with its air power and submarine force if the PRC went aggressive, so Taiwan would really only need to resist on its own for maybe a month or two.

It's fairly safe from threats due to geographic separation, but in the long term or over the course of a long war it could face the same situation as Taiwan, albeit Japan is bigger.

South Korea:
It's militarily superior to North Korea in everything except light infantry numbers and nuclear munitions. Russia is not really a threat, but the PRC could be a threat similar as with Japan, or if it intervenes in a war on North Korea's behalf. South Korea could not be defended by its own forces or allied forces against the PRC's military potential due to its continental position. The threat of an amphibious invasion by the PRC's forces -  a reverse Inchon - is relevant and would force South Korea to keep substantial forces in reserve in the event of war.

It is amazingly difficult to find an East Asia map that
shows Taiwan as separate if one uses English keywords.

I suppose the single most de-escalating and peace-preserving measure would be to take the PLAN's amphibious forces out of the equation.

- - - - -

So here's a plan for a security deal for East Asia

People that would need to know about the full plan:
  • President of the United States
  • Premier President of the Republic of China
  • Prime Minister of Japan
Everyone else would be kept ignorant about certain key parts, so that the bluff elements may succeed.

Taiwan and the United States begin talks about selling thousands of Abrams tanks, Bradley IFVs, M109 SPHs, M270 MRLs, ten thousands of Javelin missiles as well as about half of the U.S.' Patriot area air defence batteries and land-based SM-6 batteries with hundreds of new production missiles.

Japan and the United States  begin talks about selling land-based SM-6 batteries and hundreds of  F-18E/F/G combat aircraft, dozens of tanker aircraft as well as thousands of cruise missiles.

No doubt the PRC's leadership will proceed to fume and rev up to never-seen-before exasperation.

Weeks later a long-planned bilateral meeting between the presidents of the PRC and USA happens, and all these arms deals become a topic. The POTUS drops a line during this meeting - seemingly spontaneously - about how all these arms deals are all rooted in the PRC's amphibious aggression capability. 'Kind of as your concerns about our military power are mostly about our navy.'

The proposal for a deal arises, similar in spirit to the START treaties of the 80's:
  • Both PRC and USA mothball their entire amphibious fleets* with a bilateral inspection scheme
  • Neither PRC nor the USA buy or build any amphibious warfare ships, nor do they assist or subsidise other countries in building up their inventories of such ships
  • The U.S. doesn't deliver weapons or munitions to Taiwan, and won't deliver any air or naval warfare hardware to Japan.
The consequences would be
  • Taiwan is safer from invasion than it could be even if the USN was full-time focused on defending Taiwan
  • Japan is safer from the PRC
  • South Korea is safer from the PRC
  • Malaysia would be safe from the PRC
  • the PRC could not enforce any trade deals it made with African countries by sending its navy
  • the USA would save approx. USD 10 billion every year, total gains (including manpower transferred to civilian economy for productive employment) would probably exceed USD 20 billion every year
  • less confrontational political climate in East Asia AFTER the deal
  • no substantial downsides

The downside of the plan as a whole - not of a potential treaty - is the temporary heating up of the political climate in the region. An extreme (and unlikely) worst case would be a preventive PRC invasion of Taiwan - a risk that the Premier President of the Republic of China would have to assess before agreeing to the plan.


*: With measures that make it impossible to reactivate more of half of those fleets in less than three months, such as removing the engines from the hulls.

P.S.: Now don't tell me that 'dealmaker' Drumpf is going to do anything remotely similar, please. He already botched the "One China" issue terribly. His attention span would not suffice to read this article.

I don't think that this is necessarily a super-wise policy proposal. It's merely the idea of one man. It's rather the kind of proposal that I think aides to great power leaders should produce - about 40-50 such ideas per year as a creative input for strategic policies. To work out details and do the risk assessment would be an inter-agency team project.


How to fix the Romanian Armed Forces / Forțele Armate Române

This is one more part of my de facto series of super arrogant smart-arse posts on how to improve armed forces relevant for NATO's defence in Europe.

Status quo critique

The Romanian armed forces are utter crap. Have a look at their ancient equipment, look at their tiny budget (corrected in purchasing power parity), look at their geography and keep in mind they're members of both NATO (since 29 March 2004) and EU (since 1 January 2007).

Their navy is entirely pointless. There would need to be any civilian maritime traffic in the Black Sea in wartime nor makes an amphibious invasion any sense, period. It's perfectly possible to substitute all maritime traffic with road and rail traffic for a couple months, and you don't need any civilian traffic if a war lasts but a few weeks.

Their mini air force is almost entirely pointless as well. Those worn-out 2nd hand F-16s are useful for air policing, and other than that they're mere decoys to be parked on airbases. The second dozen is surplus and may end up getting cannibalised.

Too many helicopters are in use, presumably bought in part to support the domestic license producer (assembly line).

Their army has the size of about one typical divisional slice, but its equipment is stuck in the 70's and 80's, with few older and newer exceptions. Their list of capabilities for alliance defence appears to be short:
  • object security against airborne assault and raids
  • road engineer works
  • reduction of pockets
  • combat in urban and woodland terrain (with questionable radio comm links, though)
  • deception efforts, especially provision of decoys
This is a devastating critique because the Romanian armed forces are a perfect example for when a country maintains the façade of having well-rounded armed forces (tank forces, infantry, arty, air defences, warships, helicopters, fast combat jets) without spending the money to keep them modern enough for anything but the least challenging tasks. The fact is that Romania CANNOT spend enough to afford well-rounded armed forces of anything but inefficient miniature size. Romania has a moderate public debt so far and any deficit spending to spend more on the military would be utter nonsense given their alliance situation.

My first idea for reform was to pick 1,000-3,000 selected most promising personnel and disband & scrap the rest of the military, starting over from a blank sheet of paper. There's no budget for starting over like that, though.

- - - - -
Suggestions for change

Three approaches came to my mind:

(1) Militia approach

Get rid of the navy (though some units may be transferred to a maritime policing agency).

Reduce the air force (some helicopters to civilian agencies for disaster relief, keep the 12 F-16s but fly them only for air policing (24/7 two fighters on 5 minute readiness) and whatever training is necessary to maintain flight safety for this mission (no need for new pilots - even 60 year old pilots could do air policing). The air component (no separate "air force" organisation at all) should also maintain several air bases (especially runways & kerosene supply) so they could immediately be used by allied expeditionary air power.

Turn the army into a militia, divided by three categories of battalion battle groups:
  • militia battalions for delaying missions in the Eastern Carpathian mountains
  • militia battalions for object security missions at major (Danube) bridges, at airports and airbases, at powerplants etc. and in cities (especially in Bucharest)
  • militia battalions for Jagdkampf / Raumverteidigung tactics at ~100 km depth in flatlands at the Ukrainian and Moldavian borders
Only the latter category would require major investments in modern anti-MBT munition and radios. Platoon leadership quality would be the most important thing in all of these missions, so selection, education, training and experience of platoon leadership should be at the centre of the entire militia's personnel system.

(2) Humble low budget military

Same as before regarding navy and air force, but the army would be different in this model:
It would focus on four relatively cheap brigades with a limited repertoire. They would focus on what the current army is moderately capable of already, mostly
  • reduction of pockets
  • combat in urban and woodland terrain
This requires some addition of modern anti-MBT munitions, modern radios, minimum quantity of modern night vision equipment for infantry (and security pickets of other units) and very little else. Interoperability would be of little concern; these brigades or their battalion battlegroups would be sent into an area to defend or clear it with little assistance by allied forces, and until further notice.

One regiment for the capital and a couple reserve security battalions would form the backup territorial forces.

This concept might be a lot more affordable if the army as a whole rested in large part on reservists. It would be best if the organisation was oriented towards wartime strength (strength 48 hrs after mobilisation), NOT peacetime "active forces" strength. Senior officers instinctively prefer the latter because that's what they get to play with and to show off during most of the time.

(3) Totally NATO-integrated army + air policing

Again the same for air force and navy.

This approach would follow the idea for low budget brigades integrated into better-funded allied corps as described in a previous article of mine. Budget reasons would prevent much modernisation of the equipment, so again anti-MBT munitions, modern radios and a minimum of modern night vision equipment for the infantry and security pickets should be at the centre of new equipment procurement.
The capabilities of these brigades would still be modest (the training budget would likely not suffice for much mobile warfare proficiency), and they would depend on allied forces (mostly corps support) for electronic warfare, military intelligence, air defence, counterartillery, long range fires, precision fires, air support including rotary aviation support et cetera.

Again, some reservist territorial security forces.

- - - - -

The Romanian armed forces are mostly a waste of what little budgets they get. The equipment quality, training and readiness are abysmal due to the budget constraints. The Romanian contribution to alliance security is negligible and little improvement in this regard is possible in the next 15 years or more due to the economic situation. Romania SHOULD NOT spend more on its military. Romania is secured thanks to its foreign policy already. Its biggest return for the favour of security assurances by its allies is that it increases the distance between them and any plausible threat.

NATO and EU might help Romania with military subsidies (not mere dumping of old 2nd rate equipment into the country, but actually transferring funds). This would be a much more cost-efficient contribution to alliance security than to spend on expensive American, French or British personnel, for example. It would not be a problematic parallel to the Roman Empires' problematic employment of mercenaries if it was still but a small share of their defence spending. There's little Romania can do in regard to military power without such extra funds except cutting wasteful nonsense.



[Fun] America First ... but what about Iran?



Link dump Feb 2016

Back in 2014 I wrote
A "hollow force" is a military which still has plenty shiny platforms, but lacks the spares, training and consumables to be much good with them. I suppose this is rarely the outcome of incompetence and more often the outcome of poor incentives, including the top brass' attempt to blackmail politicians into providing bigger budgets while maintaining officer slots.
It's a wide-spread problem, and in the U.S. it's apparently a cyclical thing. The military and members of the legislative appear to have almost conspired to follow a strategy of neglecting training and maintenance, even personnel numbers, in favour of buying stuff (particularly big ticket items such as ships and aircraft). This served the politicians' interests because they were able to satisfy lobbyists (the big ticket item sellers have a better lobby than the providers of consumables). The military meanwhile was sitting out a perceived reduction of spending (below the insane GWOT hysteria years' budgets), hoping to end up with more ships and aircraft after the fiscal moderation than if they avoided a hollow force.

The situation is dire regarding the lacking maintenance and overhaul of warships, which is more visible to the public than are the readiness rates of tanks, for example.

- - - - -

Back in 2011 I wrote about the increased coverage of individual equipment against fragmentation threats. The evaluation was completed in 2012, and nowadays "ballistic underwear" can be purchased even online. It's not so much a protection of the entire area as of essentially genitals and major arteries in the upper legs.

The British approach seemed to be different from the American one.

Generally, I wonder why such shapes close to the body were used at all. Looking back at the ancient pteruges (which ended up making hoplites and legionaries look as if they wore mini skirts), we see a much more efficient (area : what's protected) shape. We can easily avoid this "mini skirt" impression by simply integrating fragmentation protection not into vests, but rather into a long jacket. The lower part would be supported by the hips (due to the belt) and thus not burden the back muscles, making a little more weight there rather acceptable. One would still need to judge whether the extra weight is really worth it.

- - - - -

some real life satire

- - - - -

The German newspaper FAZ had an article titled "Bundeswehr will „Ankerarmee“ für kleine Nato-Partner werden" (Bundeswehr wants to become anchor army for small NATO partners) to which I will not link for stupid legal reasons. This article describes how smaller NATO partners integrate their land forces into the German ones, benefiting from the German organisation above brigade level (corps HQ etc.). I wrote about something like this in 2015.
Other cooperations are about a joint naval flotilla, joint support aircraft (I wrote about that too).

- - - - -



How to fix the Italian Armed Forces / Forze armate italiane

This is one more part of my de facto series of super arrogant smart-arse posts on how to improve armed forces relevant for NATO's defence in Europe.

Military spending in Europe according to IISS "The Military Balance 2016":
Circles represent volume, colours represent increase 2014-2015
This critique will exclude the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanzia, paramilitary forces that are of marginal relevance for alliance defence.

Status quo critique

The Italian Navy (Marina Militare) is weirdly large. It intends to soon have two aircraft carriers, 14 major surface combatants and 8 submarines.

The Mediterranean Sea is the relevant maritime theatre for Italian national security, and the allied NATO and EU countries offer so many opportunities for basing air power on land that all hostile naval surface forces could be annihilated by land-based air power with ease, even without employment of tanker aircraft.

There is a small submarine threat by non-allied Mediterranean countries:
4, soon six Algerian Kilo submarines
5, soon 6 Israeli submarines
4 old + 4 outright obsolete Egyptian submarines
Morocco in talks to buy Russian submarines

This threat is dwarfed by what the alliance could muster, and in the event of a conflict the vast majority of the non-Israeli submarines wouldn't be in a really operational condition and at sea. Land-based air power could take out replenishment ships, submarines in harbours, harbour facilities and on top of that deploy naval mines in front of harbours. 
The complete submarine threat in an incredibly unlikely event of warfare against another Mediterranean power or two would thus likely amount to a mere one or two submarine patrols.

The Russian Black Sea fleet can thus be considered the real ASW bogeyman. Its surface ships could be wiped out with land based air power as was mentioned before, but its six conventional submarines (1970's technology) could participate in a conflict in the Mediterranean Sea IF they were there already at the beginning of the conflict. Them trying to slip through the Bosporus during a conflict would be an issue for the Turkish armed forces (NATO allies), not for the Italian ones. Yet again, it would be unreasonable to expect more than 2/3 of these submarines to patrol the Med in a combat-ready condition in such a conflict, and they for sure couldn't replenish their munitions during a war. Even those four threat submarines are highly unlikely, for most if not all of them would probably be held back in the Black Sea.

Thus the entirety of naval threats that would need to be countered by the Italian navy TOGETHER with the Greek navy AND the Spanish navy AND whatever else the NATO or EU muster in the Mediterranean Sea would be about four conventional 1970's technology submarines with a total of about 72 torpedoes and missiles. This would enable about 50 sinkings of civilian ships if all four submarines were not disturbed on their patrol by any NATO or EU navy. Let's assume an average value of the targeted ships of EUR 100 million*; the assets to save in the event of war amount to about EUR 5 billion only.

In other words; there's no rational defence policy reason for spending billions of Euros every year on Italian (or Greek, Spanish) naval forces because there's no respective threat to deter or defeat. Whatever reasons there are for the current naval spending, they are either great power gaming 'reasons' or even worse 'reasons' (such as thought-free inertia).

This is something that hardly anyone seems to think of any more; defence makes no sense if it's more expensive than to not defend. It sure makes no sense to spend more on defence annually than the most you might possibly save from destruction in the event of war.
That's equivalent to paying 100 € per year to rent a safe deposit box to secure valuables worth 30 €.

The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) had a bad tradition of having terrible fighters and buying too many light and low combat value aircraft of domestic production. The current equipment of the Italian Air Force looks unusually good compared to the service's Cold War history, though. 

F-35, Typhoon and Tornado ECR aircraft look relevant and mostly useful (though each type has its own issues and isn't anywhere near perfection). The Tornado IDS could still be somewhat usable as well, at least in the maritime domain. A big issue with the Italian air power is the lack of proper missiles for anti-ship strikes (other than anti-radar missiles and bombs). The only such missiles in service are for use by naval helicopters (Marte series). Storm Shadow (a land attack cruise missile) might have an anti-ship mode, but it is likely not as effective as dedicated anti-ship missiles are in this role. Italian land-based air power could dominate the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, but apparently it cannot.

The diversity of non-combat aircraft is rather higher than could be justified as necessary and lots of light combat aircraft with negligible utility for alliance defence are leeching funding.

These were comments about the aircraft; other topics that determine military value of combat aviation are training, readiness (especially the spare parts situation and availability of qualified crews) and munition stocks. I have no in-depth knowledge about these areas in regard to Italy, but superficial info that I picked up hinted at a hollowed-out force, with the Aeronautica Militare only deserving poor scores in all of these areas.

It should be noted that Italy possesses six of the most modern and most capable area air defence batteries, a French design (SAMP/T). To be accurate; these batteries are part of the army, not of the air force. They belong to the air war domain, though.

The Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) has a bad tradition of having mostly 2nd rate equipment. They do have an appreciation for wheeled AFVs comparable to the French army, with the Centauro vehicle (with a 105 mm tank gun) as the most famous such AFV.

They have nine combat brigades, one of which lacks an organic artillery battalion (the one on Sardinia). Eight brigades are subordinated to three divisions, the 9th being the airborne brigade. A special forces brigade holds two more light infantry (para) "regiments" and there's a marines "regiment" that's effectively an infantry battalion that may be useful for forced river crossings at least.

Two of the mechanised brigades are on islands; Sicily and Sardinia. This adds additional days to their deployment lag in the event of alliance defence elsewhere.**
The recent reorganisation was supposed to lead to what I would call two tank brigades, two brigades with wheeled AFVs and SPGs, four brigades with wheeled AFVs and towed artillery and one light airborne brigade. This means only two brigades are of the kind that one would accept to send against Russian army combat brigades, whereas the other seven brigades could be sent on  raids (using the wheeled AFVs) or used for combat in urban, swampy or woodland areas (the airborne brigade). That's the theory judging by the nominal TO&E strengths.

I won't go into great detail criticising the equipment of the Italian army.
The Ariete main battle tank design is good enough to enable the crews to do their job if their training and their employment by superiors are (were) fine. There are a few thousand modern anti-tank missiles (Spike family) in service, which I consider to be not trustworthy in face of appropriate countermeasures. Many of these missiles are in use with attack helicopters that would have marginal survivability against Russian battlefield air defences.
Most of the Italian army equipment is typical for Western European land forces.

- - - - -

Suggestions for change

(1) Navy
The navy is of marginal utility in my opinion. Having a long coastline does not necessarily mean that you need a large navy. Nor does the existence of naval equipment manufacturers in your country justify a large navy.

Some mine hunting capability is advisable, and paramilitary institutions can handle the maritime surveillance, policing and SAR affairs. Mine hunters are typically of about the same size and speed as offshore patrol vessels, so mine hunting could be done by a paramilitary establishment as well (with the personnel designated to become combatants in the event of war) instead of having separate ships for maritime policing and mine hunting. The current inventory of mine countermeasure ships is old and about to be retired, though.

It's not politically feasible to cut all that's unnecessary from the Italian Navy, of course. Likely almost everyone in Italy would want to keep a certain minimum for retaining naval competence at the very least.
It might be feasible to change the order for 15 F-35B (STOVL version with poor range) to F-35As for the air force. The ship inventory could be thinned out by mothballing, selling or scrapping old ships and not ordering any new ones.
  • Mothball the unnecessary light aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi ASAP.
  • LHA "Trieste" wasn't even laid down yet
  • LSS "Vulcano" isn't in an advanced construction stage.
  • The "PPA" patrol ship class of seven units, had but one been laid down a few weeks ago only
It might be possible to cancel these orders, but this depends on the contract details. The dire fiscal situation should offer a political opportunity and motivation to enact such cuts.

(2) Air Force

Cut the air force to what can be maintained with good training, high material and personnel-wise readiness and adequate munitions stocks. This may be as few as 60-80 combat aircraft. I advise against ordering any additional combat aircraft in the next years.
60 frequently updated combat aircraft with pilots who fly 300 hours/year would be more valuable than 200+ combat aircraft of 80's and 90's technology with pilots who fly less than 165 hours/year would be.
  • Sell or mothball the low value light attack aircraft (AMX). Third World customers might be found for this if the price is right.
  • Get rid of the air show unit (Frecce Tricolori).
  • Reduce the oversized fleet of support aircraft.
  • Transfer the ASMP/T area air defence batteries to the air force.
  • The Tornado ECR unit may not maintain its utility in the SEAD role for long, but it could specialise in naval strike with the addition of the NSM/JSM munition (about 100 missiles should be in stock) and much training in anti-ship strike synchronisation and aerial refuelling. A couple of the least worn-out Tornado IDS could be retained in the same unit for practice.
  • Ensure that the air force is actually deployable within European NATO; air defence batteries and combat aviation units should be able to deploy by long distances (such as to Crete, Poland, Romania or Hungary) within a few days. This may rest on the use of civilian transport aircraft and does not necessitate a large transport aircraft fleet.
  • Participate in NATO and European schemes for joint support aircraft (MPA, EW, tankers, transports, trainers, AEW) when there are opportunities. 

(3) Army

It makes little sense to have mechanised brigades on Sardinia and Sicily. There's hardly any threat of invasion and these forces cannot be deployed to allies under attack as quickly as forces in continental Italy.
I propose thus to establish militia forces on both Sardinia and Sicily that specialise on the defence of their island against invasion by airborne (lightly mechanised) forces, on quickly making harbours and airports unusable when ordered, on airbase security, coast observation and natural disaster responses. They need no better than towed artillery and no powerful anti-tank assets.

A single brigade with wheeled AFVs (including wheeled SPGs) could serve as a continental Italy quick response force with similar missions. It could be augmented by a regiment in Rome that protects the government in the event of crisis or conflict. Both formations could be partially active and partially composed of reservists or 'weekend warriors'.

Finally, a small corps with four to six well-funded mechanised brigades with enough tank transporters for quick long-range road marches and high readiness for conventional high end land warfare should exist, preferably based in Northern Italy with frequent road marches of each one complete brigade to exercises in Poland and Romania.
The army should aspire for such a high readiness that this corps would be battle-ready in Poland or Romania within two weeks, arriving with 80-90% of nominal strength in personnel and equipment as well as with three combat days worth of munitions (munitions for several more days should be transported to a logistical hub by civilian vehicles).

This corps should be brought up to high quality in training and doctrine, capable of both very high tempo mobile warfare in offence (especially raids, hasty attacks, river crossings) and defence (especially delaying actions) as well as relatively slow-moving offence (such as systematic reduction of pockets and clearing of settlements) and defence (such as defence in woodland, defence against river crossings).

Neither 105 mm tank guns (as on Centauro) nor the currently used ATGMs (including Spike models) should be considered as trustworthy anti-tank assets against whatever threat dares to attack NATO/EU. As usual, I recommend to have a look at HVMs like the CKEM project because the 120 mm L/44 tank guns of the Arietes shouldn't be the only somewhat trustworthy AT assets.***
_ _ _ _ _

I was guided by a near-absence of plausible threats in the Mediterranean region and a similar assumption as for Germany:
Air and land power should be maintained with the intention of preventing war by deterrence and in the case of failure achieve a quick white peace by quick deployment and battlefield success. The idea is that if a nation that's surrounded by friendly nations and impotent nations defends its allies somewhere else on the same continent it doesn't need to defend itself at home. The recommended defences at home were thus the bare minimum, meant against airborne coup de mains rather than invasion by land.

Most appalling is the navy, which has such a small antisubmarine capability that it would hardly find any of the very few threat subs in the large Mediterranean Sea during wartime. It's unnecessary against surface threats. There's very little actual defence utility in that navy. I disregard the possibility that Italian naval assets might be employed in the Atlantic Ocean (where it would be of little utility as well) because Italy with its location and relatively large readiness to spend on the military (compared to smaller allies such as Croatia, for example) should be a capable early responder to aggressions in Eastern Europe, similar to Germany. This leads to a preference for quickly deployable land power over naval power that can be substituted for by American, British, Canadian and French naval power. Allied air power is also more quickly deployable over long distances than allied land power.

Overall I suppose Italy could actually cut its military spending and still be a more valuable alliance member than presently.


*: This is likely much too high unless one counts the cargo and the lives of the crews as well; unctad.org/en/Docs/rmt2010_en.pdf page 56
**: No bridge connects Sicily with the continent, and the bridge project for changing this was cancelled years ago.
***: They would likely fail to penetrate modernised Russian MBTs or Armata MBTs from the frontal 60° arc anyway, even with the newest APFSDS munitions. Their protection isn't trustworthy against 125 mm tank guns either.


Different games

Humans (actually, almost exclusively men) are divided by having two entirely different games in mind when they approach military policy.

In one rarely played game the military is something like a fire department. A usually necessary expense. Nobody but sick people want to see houses burn or even sets them on fire, but the fire department saves the day when it happens and the rest of the time it prepares and tries to do preventive work.

The other game has entirely different rules. In this game it's all feelings-oriented. This game has almost exclusively male fans and players. I have likened this to hunter-gatherer 'caveman' clans, for the rules of this game were likely written by evolution when humans lived in small clans with little if any cooperation or trade with other clans. It may even pre-date human speech, and thus all forms of diplomacy and almost all forms of trade.*
This game is very much about "us" and "them". Any minor injury suffered  or perceived threat leads to great hostility. The amount of effort required and the quantity of casualties of conflict don't matter in this game - it's all about overpowering if not annihilating another clan or at least having more chest-thumping clubmen.
Fans and players of this game may create an impression that they're very abstract in their thinking, but the abstraction is nothing but ignoring costs and suffering - unless wasteful spending means that they can't afford as many more or less shiny clubs as they wish. They don't even pay attention when hardly any harm was inflicted on them, and their reaction to a provocation is much more harmful.

I have no doubt that the latter game worked admirably much more often than not - in prehistoric Europe and maybe even to this day in some remote South American jungle regions. The moderate pacifist point of view is still that we really, really should move on for our own good, though.

Challenge yourself: Make a note "What game do I play?" and every time you have had some thoughts about military affairs you read that note and answer yourself.