"Only a very powerful force would dare to be an aggressor against a NATO member"

I do often use more or less implicitly a certain thought that can be summarised as

'Only a very powerful force would dare to be an aggressor
against a NATO member.' And by this I mean blockade, bomb or invade.

The great utility of this is that it provides a filter; everything that's of use only against weak forces is of no use for our (collective) security. Drones that would easily be defeated by any area air defence are of no use. Towed artillery pieces may be fine for pounding Taleban, but they're pointless against an opposing force that has SPGs, MRLs and artillery radars. Heavy radio usage including blue force tracker may be great in Third World beat-ups and occupations, but would break down against a ESM- and ECM-savvy opposing force with strong artillery. Surface warships cannot be dependable combat ships for collective security unless they have area air defences AND a good antisubmarine capability. Long planning cycles that are fine in slow occupation warfare are quite useless in mobile, conventional warfare. Road de-mining efforts that clear but a kilometre per hour or so are useless in conventional warfare. Et cetera.
I consider this method of filtering out (disqualifying) concepts, habits, hardware, tactics, procedures and organisations as very useful. It's one way to draw a line between what may be necessary for collective security (deterrence and actual defence) and what's certainly not part of it.

This criterion may be misused, though. One might warp it to advocate for ever more military power by arguing that defence against the only plausible threat (one that would dare to attack) requires more military power than is available. After all, why would anyone dare attack us without us being at least partially weak?
This leads nowhere. It's an ever-escalating spiral. No strength is great enough against a hypothetical aggressor who is powerful enough to dare challenge it. That's why we should look at actual powers, not hypothetical ones.


Summary: Enhanced deterrence and defence for Baltic security


(2) A Base relocation of Polish land forces; more close to Warsaw, mostly east of Vistula, minimum 100 km distance from Kaliningrad Oblast

(3) A Military subsidy program by wealthy NATO countries to assist all three Baltic countries in equipping, paying and training their land forces including artillery, possibly tank battalions and substantial air defences. Much more reservists in Lithuania and Latvia (possible without conscription if there is enough money to pay a fair price for manpower in training). Essentially, they should together turn into something like Israel or Switzerland; disproportionally armed (at least regarding land power).

(4) A Polish land forces improvement program at the expense of the (largely useless) Polish air force and the (utterly useless) Polish navy

(5) The German Luftwaffe should redeploy its area air defence units and an additional Typhoon wing to Eastern Germany and ensure their high readiness

(6) The German Heer should shape up, shake off complacency and turn into a force that can deploy multiple combat-ready combined arms brigades to the area of Warsaw on road in very few days, including pontoon bridging engineers. The necessary expenses can be financed by raiding the useless navy's budget and cutting some other nonsense.

(7) The Czech army should ensure that at least one very high readiness combined arms brigade is available at any time

(8) The French Armée de l'air should train to deploy 80% of its Rafales (including the naval ones) and its SAMP/T batteries to East Germany in a day, with munitions and ground crews

(9) The French Armée de terre should be ready to deploy two all-wheeled brigades and pontoon bridging engineers to the area of Warsaw in very few days

(10) Establishment of NATO land forces training centre in SW Poland, with at all times 3-4 rotating NATO land manoeuvre brigades present
(11) Prepositioning of NATO standard munitions in Poland to ease supply and deployment challenges
(12) Preparation of additional airbases in East Germany and Czech Republic, possibly also addition of hardened (unoccupied) aircraft shelters on commercial airports
(13) The U.S.Army should change all of its currently in Germany based brigades into Armored Brigade Combat Teams with enough tank transporters. Currently here are the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a Stryker (medium) Brigade Combat Team instead. Both are much more flawed than Armored Brigade Combat teams are, and thus of little use in Europe. The U.S.Army should leave Central Europe once (10) is in full swing, especially since (3) is much, much more cost-efficient than forward-basing on a different continent. A few air-deployable brigades with 155 mm L/52 SPGs, powerful anti-MBT equipment and conventional warfare training based on the Eastern Coast would be a much more appropriate early intervention land forces contribution in the long term.*

(14) The Italian Aeronautica Militare should be prepared to deploy Typhoon units with munitions and ground crews to Hungary in very few days, protected by SAMP/T-equipped air defence units.

(15) Enlarged munition stocks of all relevant powers; More than ten air combat missiles per combat aircraft. More than 4,000 quality shells per artillery piece. More than 200 HE (or HESH) shells per MBT. Large quantities of surface-to-air missiles.

(16) Generally more robust (very) short range air defences and anti tank guided missile types available in quantity. The fashionable IR guidance is not reliable enough in face of countermeasures.

Still possible without endangering any ally:

(a) Huge military spending cuts in many NATO member countries, especially the United States, which have insane spending levels beyond what they can afford with their domestic politics.

(b) Huge cuts in naval spending and strength of European NATO / EU countries. There's hardly any threat in the Mediterranean, naval warfare in the Baltic Sea would be marginal and the Russian Northern fleet will in the long term only be capable in regard to SSBN and SSN patrols.
SSBNs should be left alone even in the event of war; never threaten the enemy's second strike capability, lest you provoke a first strike! 

(c) Substantial cuts in air power strength in Europe. Transport aircraft are super expensive and of little use; the slowness isn't about speed of movement, but about readiness. Much of Europe's air power is in a competence maintenance mode, using obsolete combat aircraft. Typhoons, Rafales, Gripens and Tornado ECR are relevant. Hardly anything can still be expected from F-16A/Bs, Mirage 2000, AMX and F/A-18A/Bs against Russian air defences and fighters if Russia's leadership actually gained enough confidence in its forces to dare an aggression.

(d) No return to conscription

(e) Bulk of land forces can still be limited to modest readiness to deploy to Poland. Spanish brigades could arrive after 2-4 weeks, for example. The Bulk of European land power would not need to be  available for defence in the first week; it would instead make aggression pointless in the longer run (overmatch of total European forces over Russia+Belarus).

(f) The bulk of the land forces in European NATO / the EU can even shrink, for European NATO and EU outnumber the Russian military almost 2:1 without any North American help. In several armies a combination of fewer better quality combined arms brigades with infantry-qualified reserves would be much more useful than the present quantity of low quality brigades and regiments.

Helpful, but doubtful:

(I) A plan for Baltic defence that threatens the Russian position in the Caucasus region in return to a Russian forces concentration near the Baltics, deterring the deployment of Southern Military District forces to the Western Military District. This requires Turkish political will.

(II) A Russia that's more busy with East Asian challenges; this could be provoked with something as simple as a blockbuster movie about a Chinese invasion of Siberia that pushes the idea that more Russian land power needs to be in the Far East. Follow up with pushing the narrative in social media.

related earlier posts (those not linked to above):


P.S.: That link list looks as if  I wasn't all that lazy after all. 

*: Keep in mind the U.S. would practically need to deploy at least one airborne brigade and one (USMC?) combat aircraft wing to Iceland to secure it whenever Russia seems to prepare a move against any NATO member. This reduces what air power and land power can be airlifted to Central and Eastern Europe.

later P.S.: I didn't write much about the UK here because I expect their withdrawal from Germany to go on till 2019 as planned, considering the political climate (Brexit). The continent-based unit most valuable for the security effort is likely the 23rd Amphibious Engineer Squadron (with its 38 M3 Amphibious Rigs), as described before. I consider deployment from the island to the continent as easily disrupted and thus too slow for first week intervention in force. The UK's land forces are thus rather comparable to the Spanish ones in their role; relevant for the force balance after the first two weeks (and additionally Norway).


Out of the box answers and an alternative

Out of the box answers appear to dominate Western foreign policies in conflicts:
- blocking already agreed-upon arms deals
- freezing financial assets
- economic sanctions
- cruise missile diplomacy
- tripwire forces
- military (training) cooperation
- training of indigenous militia fighters as proxies
- invasion, regime overthrow, Western-style constitution, puppet government
- military and other subsidies
- arms sales to proxies
- bullying with naval patrols right in their frontyard
- "freedom of navigation" stunts/provocations
- forward basing of forces
- UN sanctions against those who lack a veto power patron

One more bad move of Russia and there's a very high probability that Western politicians will not resist the temptation of certain such standard repertoire items any more. A permanent basing of (additional) U.S. troops in Eastern Europe (likely Poland, but initially as interim bolstered numbers in Germany) is rather likely after the U.S.elections, or rather after the coronation inauguration.

- - - - -

Here's an alternative approach to achieve the same effect of having forward-based forces, and no, it's not part of the standard repertoire:

NATO opens up a training base in the Czech Republic or in Southwest Poland, just east of the Oder river. The base has plenty exercise areas (woodland, villages, agricultural areas), but mere storehouses instead of barracks. Whatever troops would train there would live in the field. Depots in the area hold several hundred tons of diesel fuel, but more importantly they would store large quantities of NATO standard munitions (155 mm HE, 155 mm smoke, 7.62 mm, 5.56 mm, 120 mm mortar HE, 120 mm mortar SMK, 81.4 mm mortar HE, 81.4 mm smoke, 81.4 mm illum, 40 mm LV).
A supply of 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm blanks would be financed through NATO and be available to exercising brigades regardless of nationality (serving as an incentive to afford the travel in exchange for kind of free exercise ammo).
There would always be 3-4 NATO brigade (and at times one non-NATO brigade) on several weeks long exercises here, and they wouldn't even need to carry most of their warload of ammunition to this place in order to be ready for defence within hours from there.
The exercises would differ between rotations, but generally advance from scripted platoon and company tests to partially scripted battalion-level exercises and finally almost freeplay brigade(s) vs. brigade(s) mock battles.

- - - - -

This way there would always be 3-4 NATO land brigades at near-peak training state (the brigades would no doubt be prepared for such a rotation!) within a few hundred kilometres of the Polish-Lithuanian border without any permanent forward basing of troops and without any country being much out of proportion burdened by forward-deploying its own troops. Poland and the Baltics (well, at least Lithuania) would be reassured by the alliance instead of needing to apply for the vacant job as lap dog.

Russia, having many exercises of its own, could and would complain with a visibly high degree of hypocrisy only.

Of course, this is sooo much more complicated than to simply agree to some roadshow exercises or ordering some forward basing of a brigade or two.


P.S.: In case you wondered; yes, the NTC in 1980-2003 style was an inspiration for this, though I would prefer a terrain relevant for Poland/Baltics and a size for 3-4 brigades + nearby stockpile area. The extra training gear that could be afforded for such a central training centre (laser duel simulation, indirect fire effects simulation based on GPS receivers and radios) could go far beyond what most of the armies of Europe typically afford.



In nine years I marked a mere 20 posts with the "logistics" tab.

Unlike "Think Defence", who has a distressing obsession with mexeflotes and containers, I have no such logistics obsession. Yet logistics are very, very central to warfare. I tried - really, really tried - to write some more about logistics for years, but simply didn't come up with any fine ideas.
I even read (mostly terribly disappointing) books about logistics, and most of my insights from those can be summarised as

"Maybe there's really not much good stuff that can be written about logistics!"
"Those helicopter logistics aren't going to work out in a European war!"

This year I didn't try to push me to write about logistics, but I did write about them - specifically about how to move in particular forces of the Heer to Northeast Poland if not Lithuania.

This is not a big concern if one assumes weeks of early warning, but collective deterrence would benefit greatly off an ability to intervene in time against a strategic surprise invasion, and I don't see this capability.
Debates about assault rifles, tanks, aircraft upgrades, barracks closures, military head counts and even budgeting pale in comparison to the importance of the ability to deploy meaningful military force to the Polish-Lithuanian border within days (in my opinion).

Some of my articles relevant to modern-day European (continental) military logistics were



[Blog] Visitors' Operating systems


This is a "last month" statistic.
Android, iPhone, iPad, Maemo, Android 6.0.1 - that's about 23% mobile visitors, and then there are the mobile phones and tablet PCs that are hidden somewhere in the "Windows" category.

I was only reminded of the existence of a mobile phone layout of this blog when the regular version went down recently and the mobile version didn't (different template). I guess I need to pay more attention to whether and how well this blog can be read on a mobile phone!



Fragmentation ballistics and protection

There are two main approaches to fragmentation of high explosive munitions:
(1) You encase the explosive with steel and let the explosion blow apart this simple casing into many fragments (= the old approach)
(2) You encase the explosive with pre-defined fragments (often steel balls) of mostly identical size (= becoming more and more typical)

An old style externally serrated hand grenade;
too few and too large fragments (inefficient).
A hybrid approach is to use a steel casing, but create a serrated surface (inside better than outside) to create predetermined breaking points, which makes the fragmentation somewhat controllable.

This hybrid is the most typical one, but even with this approach you'll have very few very large and powerful fragments and a huge quantity of tiny fragments that become inefficient after a few metres of flight. "Soldat und Technik" issue V/1996 had an article which mentioned a typical example for a classic HE frag shell fragmentation:

0.1-1.0 g: 77% of fragments
1.0-10.0 g: 21% of fragments
10.0 -1 40.0 g: 1% of fragments.

Another example for WW2 shells with antiquated weight measurements is here.

fragments (and their speed) from German WW2 88 mm Flak (source)

Fragments from non-serrated steel shell (WW2) source

The steel quality influences the fragment sizes; ductile steel for bigger, brittle steel for smaller fragments.

Protection against this kind of fragmentation is a lottery. Even protected vehicles may be penetrated by the very few most powerful fragments, but very lightweight "flak vests" (~ 3 kg) protect against the vast majority of fragments (and weaken most of the others in their effect).
So this makes on the one hand very lightweight (low area density) protection meaningful and on the other hand it makes it very hard to ensure survival at short distances.
A ballistic helmet for example may stop almost all fragments of a HE shell, but at the same time it would stand no chance against the few big fragments without being much too heavy.

Modern defensive hand grenade;
many same-sized small predefined fragments
The predefined fragments are very different.  Their power varies mostly by distance from the explosion*, the explosion force itself, angles (from explosion and of impact) as well as impact velocity (which is subtracted from rearward-going fragments, for example).
The fragments are mostly identical to each other (the fuse also turns into fragments).

Protection against this is very tricky. You may still use lightweight protection, but it would only matter at all at considerable distances from the explosion, where the probability of being hit by a fragment is much reduced anyway. On the other hand, the fragments may be designed to penetrate even quite heavy protection (equal approx. to a 7.62 long rifle cartridge AP bullet) at useful distances from the explosion.
Matters are being made more complicated by different fragment sizes being used in different munitions. You can expect much bigger, more powerful predefined fragments in an artillery shell than in a hand grenade since the desired lethal radius is much greater and they're also meant to do damage against equipment.

The result of the difference between old and new fragmentation concepts is that the fragmentation protection criteria and concepts should be very different depending on what threat you face.
As of now, old style (at most internally serrated) HE munitions and bomblets with weak fragments can be expected from the Russian army. This means that the established concepts - particularly the lightweight fragmentation protection - still make sense, and will continue to do so for at least about a decade.
There is little reason to expect a timely reaction to such a creeping change. We will likely see huge inventories of legacy vehicles and vests that follow badly outdated protection concepts (or are simply overweight) in the 2030's.

2009-05 Body armour
2009-11 Body armour (update)
2011-01 Another shot at the historical failure of fragmentation protection vest procurement


*: This is always an important factor. The STANAG standard takes into account the distance from the explosion for this reason. 

P.S: So far the armed bureaucracies pride themselves in "more is better". Better materials lead to better protection instead of lighter weight. Ballistic helmets used to have 1-1.1 mm steel; nowadays they're capable of stopping bullets of powerful handguns or even some assault rifles. I'm in favour of modesty and self discipline and would literally prefer a "90%" solution. This, of course, only works as long as the bottom 90% of fragments are weaker than the top 10%. A lightweight helmet of today would be almost useless against 100+ mm calibre HE shells with preformed fragments while being just fine against weaker threats, including ~3/4 of the fragments of those 105-155 mm projectiles that lack preformed fragments. It takes self-discipline to limit protection instead of making helmets as heavy as can be excused.

Now a bit more complicated: This is about diminishing returns; some rewards are easily gained, but at some point it's better to stop. A hypothetical warhead with all fragments being identical would not create clearly diminishing returns from increasing fragmentation protection against explosions at a set distance greater than the lethal blast radius. So in such a hypothetical simplified case there would be no sensible cut-off point where to stop adding protection other than the frag protection level required to survive fragments just outside of the lethal blast radius.


Chest rig madness

Disclaimer: This is NOT meant as a tacticool fanboi hardware post. This is rather about a meta theme that I've touched on repeatedly already; modesty and self-discipline. This is also a re-write of a too short six year old blog post.

From the late blackpowder era to the early Cold War the infantryman's load was primarily on his waist and in his hands during combat, with additional rucksack (or other container) on the shoulders at times (not during all marching).

The waist position makes a  lot of sense for placing loads. Unlike extremities, the waist doesn't move forward and backward much, so you do not need to accelerate it with its mass so much. Sports sciences have found that very good marathon runners tend to have very small and light calves. This is energy efficient.
Kalenjin have particularly thin ankles and calves, a body build common to Nilotic tribes who grow up near the equator. Epstein says this is particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your center of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.
If you take a runner and put 8 pounds of weight around his waist, he can still run reasonably well. But if you put those same 8 pounds in the form of two 4-pound weights around his ankles, that will take much more energy and slow him down considerably.

More importantly, nothing that's being carried by the waist is a burden to the back torso muscles or even neck or arm muscles. This greatly improves energy efficiency.

Photographic evidence of WW2 shows that infantrymen rarely had much load in the front position on the waist. There was an occasional egg hand grenade on or in chest pockets and sometimes a bandoleer for cross-loading ammunition, but very rarely anything big in the belly position. Big pouches in the left front and right front are seen often, but those pouches gave way for the body when the soldier went prone to minimise his silhouette as a target.

I once read that some snipers - notably Simo Häyhä - preferred iron sights for sniping at short ranges because this allowed them to minimise their silhouette as a target*. This is a very distant idea for today's infantrymen with their straight buttstock** + raised optics rifles, particularly with stacked optics as on the G36.

So why would anyone intentionally add about 10 cm to his silhouette height by adding chest pouches  to the belly position? This maybe even in addition to 2-3 cm thickness of hard body armour inserts. That may make sense in urban combat, and nowhere else.

All those belly position pouches are near-suicidal in my opinion. They do not only increase the height in prone position, but also discourage going into the prone position (or to crawl) in the first place.***

But "modern" chest rigs do not stop at this. It's standard behaviour to burden the soldier to his limit, not to some optimum level, after all. This does not only apply to mass. It's also about surfaces and volumes. There is a chest area? Let's cover it with big pouches!
The result is not only a large silhouette, but this also burdens the torso muscles. A chest rig may do so as well to some degree or completely (resting on suspenders).

The result is that you can actually carry LESS because you tire out more quickly per kg carried.

WW2 infantry was able to sprint from cover to cover, and still had a remaining life expectation that makes one wonder why they didn't surrender or desert right away. To stay in front line infantry service was either suicide or self-mutilation. Most likely it was delusional.
Yet those infantrymen were able to sprint from cover to cover. Today's infantrymen cannot do so with their full combat equipment. The WW2 infantrymen were also able to use the smallest depressions of the terrain as cover - today's infantrymen couldn't. Their smallest silhouette is comparable to the silhouette of those extremely short-lived WW2 infantrymen who were careless enough to always keep their head up when prone.

As hinted before (twice), this is not about some fancy gear. This is about modesty and self-discipline. I think modern armies lack the respect for old lessons learned, modesty and self-discipline to get this right. It doesn't take a genius to discover this; troops in laser-based or other exercises recognise this every day. Yet somehow the bureaucracies cannot resist the temptation to burden the infantryman to the limit not only in regard to mass, but also area and volume. In fact, I think they went past the limit of practicality, but didn't get the bloody nose to recognise this yet.
Similar patterns are to be expected in other areas of armed bureaucracies.

earlier article: 2010-09 Chest rigs


*: Maybe you remember how in basic training the trainers stepped on your heels (and later you did to others) of recruits in prone position to ingrain that heels need be down to minimise silhouettes in prone position?
**: This allows the recoil impulse to go straight into the shoulder without major muzzle climb tendency.  The drawback is that the sights need to be raised far above the barrel for ergonomic reasons. This makes sense mostly for fully automatic fire at 50-150 m. I knew the 7.62x51 mm G3 rifle and considered its climb tendency on full auto as unproblematic at 30 m (I was no big guy at all at the time). You simply had to aim low, then you would place 3-4 hits on a torso-sized target. I cannot quite understand the modern preference for the straight buttstock rifle designs.
***: I sure remember that my pants' belt knuckle behind the load-bearing belt buckle was a painful-enough combo to often inhibit me in this regard.

P.S.: Now my recommendations, just in case anyone is interested: A wide, padded belt with a fragmentation protection insert in the front area with some fixed (saving fabric weight) and a few modular pouches + a light fragmentation protection vest (STANAG 2920 F2, pretty much a shortened version of the flak vest that I had in the 90's but without any integral pouches and with even better ballistic textile layers to cut down its 2.5-3.2 kg weight even more). Add a non-combat rucksack of medium volume. A chest rig with grenade and magazine pouches on the chest is acceptable only as an option for urban combat.