Quotulatiousness

March 29, 2014

China’s “barbarian-handling tools” date back 2,000 years

Filed under: China, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

Edward Luttwak describes the very first time China was able to bring powerful “barbarians” into a tributary state, and how that first success has become a key element of Chinese geostrategic thought ever since:

It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. It was achieved with a specific “barbarian-handling” tool box first described by its early practitioner, the scholar and imperial advisor Lou Jing (婁敬) 199 BCE. His method was first applied when the Xiongnú [匈奴 horse-nomad state] were still very strong and the Han were not only tactically inferior (their chariots were totally obsolete for fighting mounted archers) but also beset by political divisions, so much so that a 198 BCE4 treaty required the payment of an annual tribute in kind (silk, grain, etc.), and the formal attestation of equality for the Chanyu [Qagan, Khan] embodied in a marriage alliance, formalized by imperial letters that make the equality fully explicit.

The first barbarian-handling tool is normally translated as “corruption” in English translations, but perhaps “addiction,” or more fully “induced economic dependence” are more accurate: the originally self-sufficient Xiongnú were to be made economically dependent on Han-produced goods, starting with silk and woolen cloths instead of their own rude furs and felt. At first supplied free as unrequited tribute, these goods could still be supplied later on when the Han were stronger, but only in exchange for services rendered.

The second tool of barbarian handling, is normally translated as “indoctrination”: the Xiongnú were to be persuaded to accept the authoritarian Confucian value system and the collectivistic behavioral norms of the Han, as opposed to the steppe value system, based on voluntary allegiance to a heroic (and successful in looting) fighting and migration leader. One immediate benefit was that once the Chanyu’s son and heir married an imperial daughter, he would be ethically subordinated to the emperor as his father-in-law — remaining so when he became Chanyu in turn.

The much larger, longer-term benefit of the second tool was to undermine the entire political culture of the Xiongnú, and make them psychologically well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance, which was willingly extended in brotherly fashion when the Han were weak, and then contemptuously withdrawn when the Xiongnú were reduced to vassalage. What happened between the Han and the Xiongnú from the equal treaty of 198 BCE to the vassalage treaty of 51 BCE, remained thereafter, and still remains today the most hopeful precedent for Han dealings with powerful and violent states — evidently the assigned role of the United States in the present Beijing world-view.

The method forms a logical sequence:

Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.

Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.

Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.

Until the Chinese government decided — very prematurely I believe — to awaken the world to its classically imperial territorial ambitions by demanding the cession of lands, reefs, rocks, and sea waters from India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (demands that disturb and damage the concurrent Tianxia narrative of an alternative and more harmonious state system, disseminated even within the confines of Stanford University), it was making much progress towards Stage Two, the stage of equality preparatory to the final stage of subordination.

March 25, 2014

Understatement of the day: “dumb things happen when you’ve been drinking”

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

It’s hard to guess just which parts of his little violent criminal spree might be downgraded to mere “dumb things”:

Cpl. Jonathan Laporte shot up his own home and two of his neighbours’ cars before arming himself with a shotgun and handgun and blasting his way through the showroom of a high-end car dealership on Feb. 9, 2011.

The rampage came less than an hour after he was charged and released by police for physically assaulting three men at a Hunt Club Road hotel.

The 25-year-old soldier had met a man at the Days Inn after replying to an online ad for consensual, “no strings attached” gay sex. But the encounter turned violent after Laporte became heavily intoxicated and grabbed his partner by the neck and started squeezing after warning the man not to tell anyone about their hook-up.

The man eventually escaped wearing nothing more than his underwear and a T-shirt, but returned to the room to recover his wallet and cellphone. Once inside, Laporte closed the door and resumed the attack, punching the man repeatedly in the face as he screamed for help.

March 11, 2014

Stop That Tank!

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 31 May 2013

During World War II, the Disney company joined in the Allied war effort by producing animated movie material at cost for the US government (they also created insignia mascots for hundreds of aircraft and warships by request). These films number well over one hundred – although most are only partially created by Disney – and cover topics from antenna tuning to Beechcraft airplane maintenance to anti-German and Japanese propaganda. However, one piece in particular is of interest to us here at Forgotten Weapons: Stop That Tank!

Produced in 1942 for the Canadian military, it is a training film on the operation and maintenance of the Boys anti-tank rifle. The Disney contribution is in animated x-ray views of the various parts of the gun, and about 3 minutes of introduction featuring a section of Nazi tanks (the lead one driven by none other than Adolf Hitler) being surprised and driven back by a bunch of plucky doughboys hiding Boys AT rifles in bushes, outhouses, and horses.

The intro is pretty hilarious, but the meat of the film is actually a very informative piece on how the Boys works and how to use it. There are a couple copies of this already on YouTube, but thanks to reader Frank, we have this nice high-quality version.

Just one thing: if it was a Canadian film, there wouldn’t be any “doughboys” involved…

H/T to Think Defence for the link. They’ve also got a video of a modern shooter firing the Boys ATR (not using the original ammunition, this has been refitted to fire .50 BMG).

February 27, 2014

The Parachute Regiment

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

February 25, 2014

Official launch of the Laurier Military History Archive

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

A post at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies website introduces a digitized collection of maps, unit diaries, and other Canadian military history artifacts:

The Laurier Military History Archive – www.lmharchive.ca – is a project that was initiated in the Summer of 2013 by the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS), at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Ontario). It offers the public previously unavailable access to a variety of digitized materials from LCMSDS’ archival holdings, and will increasingly offer digitized materials in partnership with other archival institutions and private donors. At time of our official launch of the website we would like to draw your attention to three collections in particular which our dedicated volunteers have worked hard to make available to you.

The three featured collections are the Second World War Canadian Army Air Photos Collection, The George Lindsey Fonds, and The Canadian War Diaries of the Normandy Campaign Collection.

February 17, 2014

Looking forward by looking backward – military evolution

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:52

Strategy Page discusses the problems of predicting the future … which isn’t just a task for science fiction writers:

How will warfare change in the next 30 years? Military leaders, and the people they protect, are always trying to figure this out. There’s an easy way to get some good insight on the future. Simply go back 120 years (1894) and note the state of warfare and military technology at the time, then advance, 30 years at a time, until you reach 2014. At that point, making an educated guess at what 2044 will be like will like will be, if not easy, at least a lot less daunting.

In 1894, many infantry were still using single shot black powder rifles. Change was in the air though, and the United States had just begun to adopt the newfangled smokeless powder, a few years after it became widely available. In 1894 American troops were still replacing their black power rifles with a smokeless powder model (the Krag-Jorgensen). The modern machine-gun had been invented in 1883 but armies took about two decades before they began adopting them on a large scale. Most artillery was still short ranged, not very accurate, and could only fire at targets the crew could see. Horses pulled or carried stuff and the infantry marched a lot when they were not being moved long distances by railroad or steamships. But the modern, quick-firing artillery was recently introduced and still unproven in battle. Communications still relied on the telegraph, a half century old invention that revolutionized, in only a few decades, the way commanders could talk to each other over long distances. They could now do it in minutes. This was a big change for warfare. Very big. At this time telephones were all local and not portable. Cavalry was still important for scouting, although less useful for charging infantry (a trend that began when infantry got muskets with bayonets two centuries earlier).

[...]

So what does this portend for 2044? Faster and deadlier, for sure. Information war will be more than a buzzword by then because better sensors and data processing technology will make situational awareness (knowing where you and your enemy are, knowing it first, and acting on it before the other guy does) more decisive than ever.

If the expected breakthrough in batteries (fuel cells) evolves as reliably and cheaply as expected, the 2040s infantryman will be something of a cyborg. In addition to carrying several computers and sensor systems, he might wear body armor that also provides air conditioning. Satellite communications, of course, and two way video. Exoskeletons are already in the works and may mature by then. A lot depends on breakthroughs in battery tech although engineers are also finding to do more with just a little juice. Historians tend to constantly underestimate the cleverness of engineers and inventors in general.

But the big new development will be the continued evolution of robotic weapons. The World War II acoustic torpedo (used by the Germans and the allies, from subs as well as the air) was the first truly robotic weapon. You turned it lose and it would hunt down its prey and attack. There may be a lot of public uproar over land based systems that have sensors, can use them to hunt, and have weapons that can be used without human intervention. But those systems will be easy and cheap to build by 2044, and as soon as one nation builds them others will have to follow. By 2044, machines will be fighting other machines more often than they will be looking for the stray human on the battlefield.

But there will be other developments that are more difficult to anticipate. In 1894 most of the 1924 technologies were already known in a theoretical sense. Same with the 1954 technologies in 1924 and so on. What is most difficult to predict is exactly how new tech will be employed. There will be imagination and ingenuity involved there, and that sort of thing is, by its very nature, resistant to prediction.

February 8, 2014

QotD: The defence ministry

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

The problem of the Ministry of Defence is that in peace time the three armed forces have no one on whom to vent their warlike instincts except the cabinet or each other.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

February 5, 2014

Battlefield mobility for Canadian infantry in the Cold War

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:43

An interesting post by Frank Maas at the LCMSDS website looks at the story of the Canadian army’s attempts during the 1980s to get modern armoured vehicles for infantry support and battlefield mobility:

The Militia, the traditional mobilization base for the Canadian army, withered during the Cold War. Its ranks were flushed with Second World War veterans in the 1950s and there was money for new tanks and vehicles, but morale declined as the Militia’s role became civil defence in the late 1950s, and it languished in the 1960s and 1970s as defence budgets shrank. The Militia reached a nadir of 15,000 by the late 1970s, but ironically, there was a false dawn at the end of the Cold War. In the 1987 Defence White Paper, Challenge and Commitment, the Mulroney government announced that the strength of the Reserves would skyrocket to 90,000, and would complement Regular units and allow Canada to better meet commitments to NATO and continental defence. This increase in strength would be complemented by a package of improvements to bases and new equipment purchases. One of these was for a purchase of 200 armoured personnel carriers, and here the story begins.

Back then, Colonel Romeo Dallaire was head of the army’s department for assessing armoured vehicles. Dallaire was intent on purchasing the venerable and ubiquitous M113, which first entered service in the 1960s, and is one of the most numerous armoured vehicles in the world. (The Canadian army had purchased more than 900 in the 1960s, and fielded up-armoured M113s in Afghanistan). The original plan was to buy 200 M113s from the American manufacturer and have some components licence-built in Canada to fulfill requirements for Canadian content.

At the same time, however, Canada’s only manufacturer of armoured vehicles, Diesel Division General Motors (DDGM), in London Ontario, was nearly out of work. It was approaching completion of a United States Marine Corps order for 758 vehicles, and although some sales to Saudi Arabia were on the horizon for the early 1990s, the company was facing a year with empty production lines. Some salesmen and engineers at DDGM began to think they could scoop up the contract for two hundred APCs by substituting their vehicle, the Piranha Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV), and bridge the gap between the contracts.

Comparing the interiors of the LAV-25 (left) and M113 (right)

Comparing the interiors of the LAV-25 (left) and M113 (right)

There were some significant differences between the Piranha LAV and the M113 that would complicate DDGM’s plan. First, the LAV was wheeled, and the M113 was tracked. Wheeled vehicles were easier to maintain, but tracked vehicles had better off-road mobility. Second, the sides of the LAV’s troop compartment sloped sharply inward, which improved ballistic protection, but reduced internal space. Finally, the LAV had doors at the back for soldiers to deploy from, while the M113 had a ramp which made it much easier for soldiers to run out of the back of the vehicle. DDGM’s engineers could not do much about putting tracks on the LAV-25, although a wheeled vehicle would be better-suited for service with the Reserves because it would be cheaper to operate and soldiers could drive it on roads. (There are prohibitions against driving tracked vehicles on roads). DDGM could reconfigure its vehicle to look more like a M113 from the back to convince the army to accept the LAV-25 as a substitute, but this would require a significant reconfiguration of the vehicle.

Back in the late 1970s, my militia unit got some familiarization training with the then-new Grizzly AVGP, which was based on an earlier model than the LAV. While it was neat to be given the chance to try working with (and in) new equipment, we found that getting in and out of the back of the vehicle was awkward and much slower than we (well, actually our NCOs) had hoped. Practicing a dismount with a full infantry section on board was … less than tactically brilliant. The small doors tended to snag any of our equipment as we squeezed through, so you had to move more slowly to get through successfully.

Here’s a look at the rear of the Cougar AVGP from the same vehicle family as the Grizzly:

A right rear view of a Canadian army Cougar wheeled fire support vehicle that is being used as an observation post by soldiers standing watch during the combined U.S./Canadian NATO Exercise Rendezvous '83. Location: Camp Wainright, AB

A right rear view of a Canadian army Cougar wheeled fire support vehicle that is being used as an observation post by soldiers standing watch during the combined U.S./Canadian NATO Exercise Rendezvous ’83. Location: Camp Wainright, AB

February 4, 2014

“Chateau” generals

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:41

Nigel Davies has written a long post about the British and American standard of generalship in the two world wars, which won’t win him very many American (or Canadian) fans. That being said, he’s certainly right about the Canadian generals of WW2:

Contention: American senior generals in World War II were as bad, and for the same reason, as British senior generals in World War I.

[...] the politicians (and I will include Kitchener here, as he was by this time a politician with a military background rather than a real general), had based their recruiting campaign on a trendy ‘new model’ citizens army, rather than use the well developed existing territorial reserve system that would have done a far better job. They new enthusiastic troops were considered incapable of the traditional fire and movement approach of professional troops (the type that the Germans reintroduced in 1918 with their ‘commando units’, and the British army was able to copy soon after with properly trained and combat experienced personnel). Instead the enthusiastic amateurs were considered too badly trained to do more than advance in long straight lines… straight into the meat grinder.

Having said that the generals blame for the results should be at the very least shared with their political masters, I am still willing to express dissatisfaction with the approach of Haig and many of his senior commanders. They were Chateau Generals in approach and in attitude. They drew lines on maps without adequately considering the terrain, issued impossible instructions without looking at the state of the ground, and ran completely inadequate communications that were far from capable of keeping track of, or controlling, a modern battlefield.

[...]

It was noticeable later in the war that the more successful armies were commanded by competent and imaginative officers who insisted on detailed planning; intensive and specific tactical planning and operational training (down to practicing assaults on purpose built life size models); and very close control of operations to ensure success. They had usually learned the hard way, and had matured as experienced and pro-active leaders.

Of course some of this improvement was simply advances in technology. Tanks to breakthrough; better artillery fire plans to support and reduce casualties; air observation to enhance control and assess responses; better communications (including radio’s) to facilitate flexibility on the ground; and a generally better trained and more experienced soldier; with much more skilled officers. It all helped. But a lot came down to the attitude of the generals who believed that you got up front, found out the truth, stayed in close contact, and reacted to changed circumstances as immediately as possible.

However, as the American army was late to the battlefront, Davies contends that the leaders merely recapitulated the first stages of the bloody learning experience as their British counterparts, but didn’t produce the innovative leadership to match the Germans:

The Americans arrived on the Western Front when the war was already won. Only a few thousand were there for the last big German push, and by the time the Allies were moving to their final offensives with real American numbers involved, the German army was a broken reed. Which means that most American officers had only a few weeks of combat experience, and almost all of it against a failing army which had little resilience left to offer the type of resistance that might have caused the inexperienced American officers to have to reconsider their theories from their quicky officer training courses. Even the professional military officers received, at best, only a couple of hints that their ideas might not be inevitably effective against a stronger opponent. Certainly not enough time to learn how to analyse and adapt to circumstances in serious combat.

Which is why the majority of highly recognised American higher commanders in World War II appear to be chateau generals.

[...]

Eisenhower’s mistakes in theatre commands in Italy and France were possibly no worse in results than Wilson’s ongoing problems with Greece (he led the ‘forlorn hopes’ of both 1941 and 1944 there), but Eisenhower failed far more spectacularly with the Italian surrender, the Broad Front strategy, and the Bulge, than Wilson ever did with far inferior resources. MacArthur’s failures are more readily compared with Percival than the successes of a man like Leese, and Nimitz is often referred to as one of the great captains of history, for defeating a navy that repeatedly sabotaged its own efforts in the Pacific theatre. (Often by people who haven’t seemed to have ever heard of Max Horton’s much harder victory against the ruthlessly efficient U-boat campaign in the Atlantic theatre).

Similarly it is fair to say that the American front line commanders most people have never heard of were hardly inferior to their famous British contemporaries. Eichelberger was as good a commander, and as good a co-operator in Allied operations, as Alexander ever was. Truscott was probably at least the equal of Montgomery, given the opportunity. (I suspect possibly even better actually, but who can say?) Simpson, in his brief few months at the front, impressed many British officers who had served for years under men as good as Slim. And Ridgway showed in his few months of active operations a level of skill and competence (not necessarily the same thing) that far more experienced men like O’Connor did not surpass.

Why do we hear about the American chateau generals in preference to their front line leaders? And why do we hear about the British front line leaders in preference to their back office superiors. I would say it is because the British had been through a learning process in WWI that the Americans had not.

And the Canadian angle? As I’ve noted before, the First Canadian Army (scroll down to the item on John A. English’s book) was not as combat-effective in WW2 as the Canadian Corps had been in the First World War. One of the most obvious failings was in the advance to Antwerp:

Note that the equivalent British debacle during that campaign was when the Canadian Army took Antwerp undamaged, but then stopped for a rest before cutting off the retreating Germans. The Germans quickly fortified the riverbanks leading to the port, keeping it out of use for months. This was a clear example of the Canadian generals inexperience, and Montgomery is at fault here for being too involved in the last attempt to break the Germans before Christmas — Market Garden — and not paying close enough attention to one of his Army commanders, who was not supervising his Corps commander, who was not chasing his divisional commander adequately. (No one is imune from such glitches in a fast moving campaign. Inexperience any where down the chain can cause big problems. But it is noticeable that Crerar’s failure did not get him the public acclaim Patton has enjoyed?) Crerar was a ‘political appointment’ by the Canadians (an ‘able administrator’, but militarily ‘mediocre’ according to most) who Montgomery considered to be as inferior in experience and attitude as many of the American ‘chateau leaders’ he would have put in the same basket. By contrast Monty was delighted when the more competent front line leaders – the Canadian Simonds and the American Simpson – were assigned to him instead. As in the cases of the Australian General Morshead or the Polish General Anders, Montgomery only cared about ability, not nationality. But as was the case with the Americans, all too many generals in most armies, including the British and German armies, lacked experience or ability.

Update, 13 February: Mark Collins linked to an earlier post that helpfully describes some of the problems with Canadian generalship in Europe:

The Canadian command style in WW II was even more stuck in the mud than the American. With a few exceptions (McNaughton, Burns, Crerar) most Canadian generals had little or no General Staff experience, and those that did were practitioners of a successful, for the earlier WW I time and place, doctrine based on set piece battles founded on the systematic and intensive use of artillery.

One virtue of the German system is that it allowed officers to make mistakes: it did not allow them to sit on their butts waiting for orders; it encouraged risk taking which often worked but sometimes ended in bloody disaster (indeed it’s amazing it didn’t in France in 1940).

Indeed comparing the Canadian Army in WWII with the German is very difficult. Both had to expand from a tiny base to their war-time peak, but the Germans began in 1933 (actually even before then); we didn’t really begin until 1940. The Germans lost the Great War and the Reichswehr gave serious thought to how to do better next time.

One thing underlying the British set piece battle approach and limited freedom for commanders – the one the Canadian Army followed – seems to have been their realization in the late 1930s that the British Army was simply not as good as its 1914 ancestor. That was partly because of the losses of promising junior officers who never made general [though that affected the Germans too], partly because of indifference to defence at the governmental level, and partly because the military lapsed all too happily back into “real soldiering” in the 20’s.

February 1, 2014

QotD: Captains, Majors, and Colonels

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:06

The BBC television show Blackadder is arguably one of the funniest and finest comedies of the late 20th century. Achingly sharp, with jokes that are still funny to this day, it was a four series show which finished with Blackadder Goes Forth set in the First World War. Watching the show today, one is struck by how funny it is, and also worryingly how its anti-establishment jokes aimed at undermining the social structure of the time has become the accepted historical record of the First World War.

The UK has a very strange ‘love hate’ relationship with its military officers — junior ones are portrayed as incompetent (Lieutenant George), Captains are seen as possibly okay (Captain Blackadder), Majors are usually seen retired and with a snifter in their hand (the Major from Fawlty Towers), while Colonels or heaven forbid Generals (General Melchett) are usually seen as inept, incompetent, who do not have a clue about their profession or what it involves. They are seen as people without a clue until the point when they retire, at which point they suddenly become military geniuses, whose angry letters to Broadsheet newspapers warrant being printed on the grounds that they are military commanders who know what they are talking about.

Sir Humphrey, “This is the Captain(s) of Your Ship Speaking… Why there are 260 Captains in the Royal Navy today”, Thin Pinstriped Line, 2013-10-19

January 31, 2014

Paper Dragon?

Filed under: China, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.

[...]

While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.

This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:

Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.

January 25, 2014

War in the 21st century

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Jim Dunnigan wrote this short piece as a proposal for a longer work to follow-on to his book The Perfect Soldier in 2003.

There are many new trends producing the dramatic changes in warfare. Many of these changes are missed by the media and even many military analysts because so much has changed so quickly. The new technologies and trends include;

Robots. Combat robots have actually been around for over a century. Naval mines and torpedoes are robotic weapons that proved themselves in the early years of the 20th century. There were some more robotic weapons in World War II (cruise and ballistic missiles plus the first “smart shells”), but the momentum for combat robots really didn’t get going until the late 20th century, when smaller, cheaper and more reliable microprocessors and similar electronics made it possible to create inexpensive, “smart”, dependable and useful battle droids. Combat robots have sneaked into the military, without many people in, or out of, uniform paying a lot of attention. That’s still the case, especially because the media and even many senior military and political leaders don’t fully understand the technology nor how it is implemented. One example of this confusion can be seen with the constant reference to UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) as “drones” or “robots.” They are neither, they are simply remotely controlled aircraft, something that’s been around for over half a century. But these UAVs are being given more and more robotic (operating autonomously) capabilities. This isn’t new either, as torpedoes have had this ability for over 60 years and missiles for over 50 years.

Battlefield Internet. The Internet appeared as a mass-market product in the mid-1990s just as a generation of PC savvy officers were rising up the chain of command. These guys had encountered the first PCs as teenagers and then had access to the pre-World Wide Web Internet in college. PCs and the web were not mysteries, but tools they were familiar with. By 2001 these men and women were majors and colonels, the people the generals turn to when they want something done, or explained. When the World Wide Web showed up in the mid-1990s, generals turned to the majors and colonels for an update and were told, “no problem sir, good stuff. We can use it.” There followed a scramble to create a workable “battlefield Internet.” But there was another trend operating, the 1980s effort to implement “information technology.” But as the ideas merged with workable and affordable hardware and software, sparks began to fly. Unlike earlier ventures into new technology, this was not just a case of the troops being given new gadgets and shown how to use them. With Internet stuff, and Internet savvy troops, a lot of the new technology was being invented by the users. This has created high speed development of new technology, putting new stuff through development, testing and into use much faster than ever before.

[...]

Commandos. These specialists have always been around. Think of the “Knights of the Round Table” or any legendary super warrior. During the 20th century, methods were developed to produce commando class troops at will. This was not possible in the past. While commandos are specialist troops that are only useful in certain situations, when you can use them, they often have a devastating effect. Those nations with large commando forces (the US, Britain, Russia, etc.) have a military advantage that is often the margin of victory.

Off the Shelf Mentality. Since the 1980s, the military has increasingly looked to commercial companies for the latest combat equipment. This recognizes that military procurement has become too slow, and technological advances too rapid to get the latest gear into the hands of troops before it becomes obsolete. In most cases, civilian equipment works fine, as is, for the military. This is because over half the troops that work at jobs that never take them from shops or offices indistinguishable from the work places civilians use. But even the combat troops can find a lot of equipment that is rugged enough for the battlefield. Soldiers have long noted that civilian camping equipment is superior to most of the stuff they are issued, and many soldiers have supplemented, or replaced, issued equipment with better off-the-shelf gear. In the last decade, it’s been common for combat troops to bring civilian electronics gear with them. Everything from laser range finders to GPS units, all of which are issued, but the official stuff tends to be heavier and less capable.

January 20, 2014

Addressing commonly held beliefs about the First World War

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

BBC News Magazine has an article by Dan Snow discussing some commonly held beliefs about the First World War:

3. Men lived in the trenches for years on end

Front-line trenches could be a terribly hostile place to live. Often wet, cold and exposed to the enemy, units would quickly lose their morale if they spent too much time in them.

As a result, the British army rotated men in and out continuously. Between battles, a unit spent perhaps 10 days a month in the trench system, and of those, rarely more than three days right up on the front line. It was not unusual to be out of the line for a month.

During moments of crisis, such as big offensives, the British could occasionally spend up to seven days on the front line but were far more often rotated out after just a day or two.

4. The upper class got off lightly

Although the great majority of casualties in WW1 were from the working class, the social and political elite was hit disproportionately hard by WW1. Their sons provided the junior officers whose job it was to lead the way over the top and expose themselves to the greatest danger as an example to their men.

Some 12% of the British army’s ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17% of its officers. Eton alone lost more than 1,000 former pupils – 20% of those who served. UK wartime Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost a son, while future Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded and an uncle was captured.

[...]

7. Tactics on the Western Front remained unchanged despite repeated failure

Never have tactics and technology changed so radically in four years of fighting. It was a time of extraordinary innovation. In 1914 generals on horseback galloped across battlefields as men in cloth caps charged the enemy without the necessary covering fire. Both sides were overwhelmingly armed with rifles. Four years later, steel-helmeted combat teams dashed forward protected by a curtain of artillery shells.

They were now armed with flame throwers, portable machine-guns and grenades fired from rifles. Above, planes, that in 1914 would have appeared unimaginably sophisticated, duelled in the skies, some carrying experimental wireless radio sets, reporting real-time reconnaissance.

Huge artillery pieces fired with pinpoint accuracy — using only aerial photos and maths they could score a hit on the first shot. Tanks had gone from the drawing board to the battlefield in just two years, also changing war forever.

January 18, 2014

British army unit diaries from WW1 now online

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:07

Rather than the diaries of individual soldiers (as the original title of the video suggests), these are the formal day-to-day action records of battalions and regiments of the British army. A proportion of the diaries from the First World War have been digitized and are available on the internet:

Published on 15 Jan 2014

Diaries describing life during the First World War by British soldiers have been digitised and can be read online.

As part of the organisations centenary programme the National Archives is publishing the first batch of unit diaries from France and Flanders.

One soldier from the 4th Division, 1 Battalion Somerset Light Infantry in 1917 describes one occasion of gunfire: “The Germans quickly got their artillery into position, and a considerable amount of shelling was experienced. Our casualties in this engagement were slight.”

Another entry by Captain CJ Paterson, one of the First Battalion’s soldiers describes the horrendous reality of life in the trenches:

“As I say all should be nice and peaceful and pretty. What it actually is is beyond description.

“Trenches, bits of equipment, clothing (probably blood-stained), ammunition, tools, caps, etc., etc., everywhere.

“Poor fellows shot dead are lying in all directions. Some of ours.”

“Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war. I have had a belly full of it.”

Maria Miller, Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said: “The National Archives’ digitised First World War unit diaries will allow us to hear the voices of those that sacrificed their lives and is even more poignant now there are no living veterans who can speak directly about the events of the war. This new online vehicle gives a very public voice to some of these soldiers, through which we will be able to hear their thoughts and feelings.”

You can read the online war diaries on the National Archive website here: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-­war

Records for the Canadian Corps (which fought as part of the British army) are in the process of being digitized, according to the Library and Archives Canada website.

War diaries are a day-to-day description of unit activities for army units in active service, and contain information about unit location and the military operations in which it may be involved. The diaries rarely mention individuals by name, with the exception of some references to officers.

[...]

War diaries for the Army in the First World War (RG 9 IIID3) are being digitized and can be viewed online by using the Advanced Archives Search. Records not yet digitized are available on microfilm.

  • Select Finding Aid Number in the pull down menu, and enter: 9-52
  • Enter a keyword, for example, the unit name or battalion number: “102nd” or “Royal Canadian Dragoons”

January 14, 2014

Questions in Parliament – Scotland and the post-referendum military

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. [178081]

Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.

10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178610]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178611]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.

And again, on the 17th of December:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [180163]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.

And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. [180865]

Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.

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