The "modular" racket

I have a couple texts planned that have "modules" as commonality. I'd like to push this remark on "modular" approaches first, to clarify that I'm not fooled by the usual racket.

Armed services often lie and deceive to politicians and the public when it comes to "modular" approaches because they hardly ever purchase many more modules than fit on dedicated platforms. Thus very few if any "modular" approaches actually benefit from the theoretical ability to swap out one module for another to suit the platform for a different missions. Swapping modules is even impractical in some "modular" approaches.
The typical outcome looks more like '10% more modules than fit onto the platforms were purchased', while a sensible surplus would rather be in the range of 100%-500%, depending on the program.




"Majority of terrorists who have attacked America are not Muslim, new study finds"

independent.co.uk, Mythili Sampathkumar

"Right-wing extremists, often white supremacists, were responsible for 115 incidents within the same period. Events like Robert Dear’s killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood women's health clinic in December 2015 for offering abortion services would fall into this category.  In terms of police action, 76 per cent of the Islamist incidents were thwarted versus just 35 per cent of the right-wing extremist incidents.  Sting operations were used in nearly half of the Islamist-related incidents, a rate four times higher than police operations on right and left-wing extremist acts."

Keep in mind "sting operations" are under criticism because they may provoke people into becoming terrorists who wouldnot have done anything like that without such motivation by the FBI. The statistic may thus be inflated by "sting" ops.

"More people died in the Islamist incidents, a total of 90 due to mass shootings like the one in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. However, around 33 per cent of right-wing extremist incidents involved deaths versus 13 per cent of Islamist terror acts. They also caused 79 deaths."

The notion that Islamic jihad ideology terrorism is much more lethal is actually widespread, and efvidently wrong. The attention paid (most of the time, not these few days) is also out of proportion regarding the lethality.

"The evidence appears to belie Donald Trump’s rhetoric, however.  The report said that Mr Trump’s “fixation” on “radical Islamic terrorism” is “irrational”."

It is, and that's important. Such evidence reveals who has the capacity to understand the real world & its problems and potentially devise and enact solutions to problems, or exploit opportunities for progress - and who's easily mislead by prejudice, feelings and/or ideology. It's a marker for the difference between a politician who may be of great use to his people (who these people are is another issue) and a politician who's no better than the figurative drunk ranting uncle at the family barbecue.
Ideally, we get to observe politicians in positions of little power (such as sub-national legislatures, as mayors et cetera) where we can weed out the bad ones, then they gain additional experience and exposure as national-level politicians where we can weed out even more so we have a certain pool to choose from for the highest national-level and supranational offices of great power. Populists who propel entirely untested "charismatic" politicians and their followers into highest offices lack this multi-level vetting, just as do 'shooting stars' in established parties who rise too quickly due to help of some top politicians.
The aforementioned vetting by the public is far from perfect, but still better than nothing.

Even reformist / populist parties should march through the political instances slowly - there's hardly ever a crisis so bad that a slow (~4-8 years) advance would be too slow. In fact, they may have the most thorough success if they are particulalry slow (~10-20 years) as were the greens in Germany, who achieved participation in a national-level cabinet for the first (and so far only) time after almost two decades. By then their original environmental protection focus had affected the policies of other parties; they had achieved most of their original aims without being in power.
They also had some extremely questionable personalities and political viewpoints in their early years, which they now regret. This went as far as tolerance for pedophiles. In hindsight, them advancing to national level power in the early 80's would not have been a good thing. They had not weeded out their misfits. The AfD (new right wing party) of today was even overwhelmed by its misfits - now the vast majority of Germans seems to be glad that the AfD missed capturing national parliament seats months after its foundation.


*: Such as the former German minister of defence von Guttenberg, who shouldn't have made it past a town council level of responsibility.



[Fun] Now drive backwards!

(It would actually not matter all that much because such T-72/-80/-90 tanks
have a walking pace-like maximum reverse speed).

In case your browser cannot show the video; link.


Blogger issues

Weird things are happening with new comments now (the list of comments awaiting moderation is empty even though I receive e-mail notification of a new comment), so don't think too much about it if your comment doesn't appear quickly or at all.



Morale, endurance and the budget

Lightweight equipment isn't enough to keep dismounted combat troops from becoming too exhausted for their missions. Let's think about other factors;
  • selection and allocation of suitable recruits*
  • physical fitness
  • cohesion (including good enlisted-NCO relations)
  • sufficient (hot) food and water supply
  • prior training in enduring stress, exhaustion and adverse conditions *
  • sleep discipline*
  • good leadership
  • companion/mascot animals (especially dogs)*
  • comfortable clothing
  • protection from elements (suitable clothes, tent, use of buildings)
  • personal hygiene
  • replacement boots & clothes
  • uplifting moments
  • good CASEVAC and medical care
  • ideally daily communication with family (digital text messages as minimum)
Such things are relatively affordable and can thus be mastered by poor budget forces even though some high budget armed services fail at providing such favourable circumstances.
Military history shows that endurance under great stress is a hugely important determinant for battlefield success. Armies tend to become better at preparing troops for combat during wartime, and usually they pay more attention to the factors listed above than before war, unless they feel forced to cut training down in order to fill the ranks.

Such non-combat background issues are likely even more important than other pivotal questions such as:
  • Can we penetrate their tanks head-on? Can they do it?
  • Can we maintain our radio comms in face of their ECM? Can they do it?
  • Are our radio comms secure? Are theirs secure?
  • Who has air superiority? 
  • Do we need to ration fuel and munitions? Do they?
  • Do we have sufficient night vision? Do they?
  • Do we know where we are and where we are heading?
Overall, I think there clearly are diminishing returns from investment in land power quality. Improvements beyond getting the two lists above right will yield little additional benefits.**

A good approach for sufficient deterrence and defence on a tight budget would thus be to get such essentials right and keep ambitions in check for almost everything else. This would be a kind of Schwerpunkt applied on budgeting; get right what needs to be right, be frugal on luxuries.


*: These are the points at which the German Heer fails as far as I know, but I am not an active soldier and really only have an outsider's vantage point these days.
**: Plus effective artillery support, but I'd exclude air superiority and be satisfied with a good air defence instead.


A proposal for infantry modernisation

I wrote a summary post on soldier (infantry) modernisation programs back in 2009. Such programs range from simply new clothes, helmet, guns and night vision equipment up to super-ambitious 'electronic infantryman' approaches with helmet-mounted display, camera on the rifle, lots of wearable computer tech if not even exoskeletons.

The components are usually not ready for introduction at the same time, so whatever hardware finds its way from development into service does so in a trickling fashion. The procurement agencies have fancy buzzwords ("increment" and so on) for this, as if it was perfectly compatible with the ambition of having one big modernisation program.

That's actually something I'd like to see changed; I don't want to see "one big modernisation program", regardless of how many phases, increments, cycles et cetera it has.
I would like to see the different programs of allies competing in troops testing with realistic and at most partially scripted mock battles. I'd also like to see a competing infantry modernisation program in the same major nation as one of those 'electronic infantryman' programs - and they, too, should compete. I'd like to see - in troops testing mock battles - the concept of agile lightweight-equipped infantry tested against the concept of 'electronic infantry'. Agility and mobility versus more communication, more night vision, more digital maps.
These mock battles should include scenarios with heavy ECM influences.

It's striking that while program managers pay lip service to lightweight products, no infantry modernisation program (the 2009 list is outdated, obviously) appears to focus on reducing the weight of equipment and NOT considering those weight savings as potential for additional equipment.

There's very little insight to be gained by yet another 'electronic infantryman' program, but much insight could be gained by pitting those against a properly lightened load infantry for a change. Besides, the lightened load equipment would be hugely relevant to non-infantry troops as well (while with conventional programs that's mostly limited to clothing), and they comprise well over 2/3 of a deployed army!


A doomsday timeline

There's one old (German, 1985)  book on late Cold War issues - especially nuclear war - that impressed and no doubt also influenced me much. For German readers; ISBN-3-922508-33-2. It appears to be a translation of a Scientific American publication.

The most interesting page of it is about the timeline of a hypothetical Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S.. This surprise first strike scenario includes submarine-launched missiles launched from not far off the East Coast and a huge ICBM strike. It's interesting because the timeline shows how illusory the idea of an immediate retaliation (before ICBM silos were hit) was, and how very much the nuclear deterrence rested on the ability to command and execute a second strike well after that first strike.

long exposure photo of an ICBM test

I referred to this timeline several times in discussions over the past and now that I rediscovered the book in my way too big private library I will reproduce it here. Next time I refer to the timeline I can simply drop a link to this.

first few seconds:
coordinated launch of hundreds of ICBMs from Soviet silos as well as 4 to 5 SLBMs from a SSBN off the coast

after 2 minutes:
first transmission of attack warnings by satellite-based infrared sensors and early warning radar chain

after 2 to 7 minutes:
period available (5 minutes) for decisionmaking and ordering of a non-disrupted "launch under attack"
after 7 minutes:
exoatmospheric explosions of 4 to 5 SLBM warheads over the North American continent (about one Megaton TNTeq each at abut 480 km altitude); likely damage in U.S. landline and radio communication devices by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by the exoatmospheric explosions

after 8 minutes:
latest possible time for arrival of the order for retaliation attacks in command centers in order to complete the launch procedures in time before x-ray radiation becomes too intense for launching missiles

after 8 1/2 to 21 minutes:
launches of additional SLBMs (then still too inaccurate to defeat ICBM silos, launches delayed to maintain surprise)

after 10 minutes:
last possible moment for launching ICBMs to avoid damages by intense x-ray radiation during flight at high altitudes

after 12 minutes:
first probable confirmation of the ICBM attack by BMEWS radar

after 12 to 15 minutes:
available period to make the decision for a retaliation strike after confirmation by BMEWS radar (x-ray issues may not be avoided any more, ICBM counterattack may fail partially or entirely)

after 14 to 27 minutes:
explosions of thermonuclear warheads of SLBM missiles above ICBM silos to suppress them with x-ray radiation (waves of explosions with one minute spacing)

after 15 to 21 minutes:
required period to relay the launch orders through emergency communications

after 21 minutes:
last possible time for the retaliation launch orders to complete launches prior to thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads close to the ground

after 24 minutes:
last possible time to avoid damages by thermonuclear explosions during the boost phase

after 25 to 30 minutes:
first thermonuclear explosions of ICBM warheads at U.S. ICBM silos

One can see the concerns about detection delays, suppression of communications, damages to ICBMs by x-ray radiation and damages to ICBMs by nearby thermonuclear explosions. Launches from the 31st to the 50th minute would furthermore face the problem that the (few?) surviving and 100% functioning missiles would need to rise through the dust and debris clouds of those explosions.

The attackers would have their own set of problems, mostly with reliability, dispersion and the difficulty to place multiple warheads on one target without the first explosion and its effects causing harm to the later strikes on the same target. One missile per silo would yield an unsatisfactory probability of silo destruction due to the reliability and dispersion issue.

The whole scenario did not include a first strike on the SLBM force or nuclear warheads in relatively dispersed storage. The easily-destroyed strategic bomber force was ignored as well (think of it as easy prey for SLBMs).

In the end, the wargames and operational research showed that both an immediate retaliation was unrealistic AND a satisfactory disarmament in a first strike was unrealistic. This may have kept the peace in the 70's and 80's.

The issues of the scenario did no doubt change in the meantime. The sensors used were changed, and more importantly SLBMs could have been upgraded with satellite navigation (GPS, GLONASS), so the entire attack could be completed within 8-9 minutes with an all-SLBM strike. The Cold War ended just in time before this became a practical possibility.



"Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens"

There's an old (2014) study about the alignment of actual policy with the desires of interest groups in the United States, and I meant to write something smart about it for years. Sadly, I found no particularly smart comment in face of so much obviousness.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, 2014

Essentially, voting doesn't matter there. Money, affinity fraud, socio-ethnic group identity (old white rich men) and networks appear to be in power constantly.

It's sad that the attempts to break this system pushed hardly competent and benevolent champions for change to the better into high office. To elect a self-proclaimed billionnaire known for selfishness strikes me as the most stupid possible attempt at ending this gilded age.