Quotulatiousness

January 21, 2016

Roles for Canada’s armed forces

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ted Campbell outlines the most likely tasks and approximate organization of the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of the political or ideological stripe of the government of the day:

Thus far, in two posts: Establishing Some Baselines and Defence of Canada I have developed four “baseline” roles or tasks for the Canadian Department of National Defence:

  • To maintain active military forces to share in the continental defence of the North American homelands, of the maritime approaches to them and of the airspace over both.
  • To maintain a global, blue water fleet, supported by air forces, that is able to, simultaneously, maintain a constant Canadian presence in at least two different theatres.
  • To maintain trained, disciplined military units that can, on very short notice, give effective “aid to the civil power” here in Canada.
  • To maintain combat naval, land and air forces and a full range of strategic and tactical support services, able to conduct low to mid intensity operations anywhere in Canada on short notice.

Those tasks, both explicitly and implicitly, call for:

  • A surveillance and warning system ~ which, I think, to be really useful must cover all of the Canadian landmass, the maritimes approaches to it and the airspace over both and, probably, needs to have terrestrial, underwater, airborne (aircraft mounted) and space based (satellite) sensors.
  • A command and control communications (C³) system to interconnect all those sensors and the various command agencies ~ Canadian, US and combined.
  • A full fledged Navy able to operate in 9and under) coastal waters and anywhere in the world.
  • A full fledged Air Force able to conduct air and joint operations in Canada and to conduct joint naval-air operations anywhere in the world.
  • An Army for domestic, territorial defence of Canada.
  • The full fledged Navy and Air Force and limited Army also, in their turn, call for medical, logistical, administrative and financial support systems: hospitals, supply depots and warehouses, and people working away in offices, far away from the action, keeping services flowing to the people who need them.

What about forces for the next Afghanistan or UN peacekeeping mission or Korea or, heaven forbid, another world war?

That would be an Expeditionary Force.

Read the whole thing.

January 20, 2016

German Uniforms of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Jan 2016

From the iconic Pickelhaube to the almost legendary Stahlhelm and the field grey colour, German military uniforms of World War 1 are instantly recognisable. But there is more to them than just the spiky leather helmet that was often used in enemy propaganda. In our new special episode we are talking about the details of the German uniforms in the First World War.

January 14, 2016

A Soldier’s Kit – WW1 Uncut: Dan Snow – BBC

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Apr 2014

An army is as good as the kit its soldiers use. In 1914, which army was the best equipped? Historian Dan Snow finds out.

QotD: The introduction of the steel helmet for British troops in WW1

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

They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.

One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.

On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.

By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.

Patrick Crozier, “The British army gets steel helmets”, Samizdata, 2015-12-02.

December 29, 2015

Nicknames in the British army

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Forces TV on the widespread practice of renaming recruits when they report to their unit:

It’s common enough in civvy street, but it seems that it’s definitely standard issue in the British military. For decades, service personnel have had their names changed the moment they’ve arrived at their first military unit. Usually by a smart-alec superior.

Of course the fresh-faced recruit is too junior to protest, if s/he even understands the black humour behind their re-christening. The nickname may stick with them for the rest of their career, and will be used all the more if it particularly upsets the poor soldier / sailor / airman lumbered with it. It may stick with them for the rest of their life: I’ve heard many tales of only mothers still persisting in calling their sons by the name they chose for them; to everyone else they have become what the Army redesignated them. For good.

[…]

Former members of the military like to reminisce about these days in online forums. One of the more repeatable tales on the Army Rumour Service’s website goes like this:

    “Best I ever met was a Sergeant Kennedy nicknamed EDY. Legend had it that he had rocked up at the regiment as a shiny new Trooper and presented himself to the guardroom. The Guard Sergeant had looked at the scrawny young man and asked

    “name?”

    “Kennedy, Sergeant” came the reply

    “last three?” asked the Sgt

    long pause, followed by

    “E-D-Y, Sgt?”

    20 years later, he’s still known as EDY.”

Military nicknames frequently replace a person’s Christian name for that of a famous person, with whom they share a last name. Someone called Black becomes “Cilla”(especially if they’re male); Barker is “Ronnie”; Gordon attracts “Flash”.

Further examples include “Nobby” for anyone named Clark or Hall; “Buck” if your last name is Rogers, “Perry” if it’s Mason and either “Burt” or “Debbie” if it’s Reynolds. Not forgetting Dicky Bird, Chalky White, Smudge Smith, Dinger Bell, Swampy Marsh, Grassy Meadows, Snowy Winter and Happy Day.

December 22, 2015

Colonial Glory And World War 1 Reality – British Field Marshal John French I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 21 Dec 2015

British Field Marshal John French was a soldier through and through and had a glorious career during the colonial era of the British Empire, but all the battles around the world couldn’t prepare him for modern war. His experience in the Boer Wars and in the Mahdist War made John French a rising star in the military. But when he was leading the British Army landing in Belgium in August 1914, neither he or the public were prepared for the new realities of World War 1 with huge casualties and trench warfare.

December 21, 2015

When the political pressure overwhelms the operational priorities

Filed under: Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Strategy Page on the political win of just requiring the US Marine Corps and Special Operations Command to integrate their front-line troops (integrate women into their front-line units, that is):

In early December, after years of trying to justify allowing women into the infantry, artillery and armor and special operations forces, the U.S. government simply ordered the military to make it happen and do so without degrading the capabilities of these units. While the army was inclined the just say yes, find out what quotas the politicians wanted and go through the motions, some others refused to play along. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and the marines pointed out that the research does not support the political demands and that actually implementing the quotas could get people killed while degrading the effectiveness of the units with women. This is yet another reason why many politicians do not like the marines and are uneasy about SOCOM. The commander of SOCOM promptly said the order would be implemented (otherwise he can kiss his upcoming promotion goodbye) but the Marine Corps has, as in the past, not voiced any enthusiasm at all. This decision involves about 220,000 jobs. About ten percent of these are special operations personnel, commonly known as commandos.

The special operations troops are not happy with this decision. In a recent survey most (85 percent) of the operators (commandos, SEALs, Rangers) in SOCOM opposed allowing women in. Most (88 percent) feared that standards would be lowered in order to make it possible for some women to quality. Most (82 percent) believed that women did not have the physical strength to do what was required. About half (53 percent) would not trust women placed in their unit. For these men the decision is a matter of life and death and SOCOM commanders fear that the decision, if implemented, would cause many of the most experienced operators to leave and dissuade many potential recruits from joining. Keeping experienced personnel and finding suitable new recruits has always been a major problem for SOCOM and this will make it worse.

That said there are some jobs SOCOM operators do that women can handle. One is espionage, an area that SOCOM has been increasingly active in since the 1990s because of their familiarity with foreign cultures and operator skills and discipline. Another task women excel at is teaching. Israel has long recognized this and some of their best combat skills instructors are women. But what the male operators are complaining about is women performing the jobs that still depend on exceptional physical as well as mental skills. These include direct action (raids, ambushes and such) and recon (going deep into hostile territory to patrol or just observe.) These are the most dangerous jobs and many operators are not willing to make the job even more dangerous just to please some grandstanding politicians.

This order has been “under consideration” for three years. The various services had already opened up some infantry training programs to women and discovered two things. First (over 90 percent) of women did not want to serve in any combat unit, especially the infantry. Those women (almost all of them officers) who did apply discovered what female athletes and epidemiologists (doctors who study medical statistics) have long known; women are ten times more likely (than men) to suffer bone injuries and nearly as likely to suffer muscular injuries while engaged in stressful sports (like basketball) or infantry operations. Mental stress is another issue and most women who volunteered to try infantry training dropped out within days because of the combination of mental and physical stress. Proponents of women in combat (none of them combat veterans) dismiss these issues as minor and easily fixed but offer no tangible or proven solutions.

December 18, 2015

QotD: The Roman combat system

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

The constitution of the Imperial legion may be described in a few words. The heavy-armed infantry, which composed its principal strength, was divided into ten cohorts, and fifty-five companies, under the orders of a correspondent number of tribunes and centurions. The first cohort, which always claimed the post of honor and the custody of the eagle, was formed of eleven hundred and five soldiers, the most approved for valor and fidelity. The remaining nine cohorts consisted each of five hundred and fifty-five; and the whole body of legionary infantry amounted to six thousand one hundred men. Their arms were uniform, and admirably adapted to the nature of their service: an open helmet, with a lofty crest; a breastplate, or coat of mail; greaves on their legs, and an ample buckler on their left arm. The buckler was of an oblong and concave figure, four feet in length, and two and a half in breadth, framed of a light wood, covered with a bull’s hide, and strongly guarded with plates of brass. Besides a lighter spear, the legionary soldier grasped in his right hand the formidable pilum, a ponderous javelin, whose utmost length was about six feet, and which was terminated by a massy triangular point of steel of eighteen inches. This instrument was indeed much inferior to our modern fire-arms; since it was exhausted by a single discharge, at the distance of only ten or twelve paces. Yet when it was launched by a firm and skilful hand, there was not any cavalry that durst venture within its reach, nor any shield or corselet that could sustain the impetuosity of its weight. As soon as the Roman had darted his pilum, he drew his sword, and rushed forwards to close with the enemy. His sword was a short well-tempered Spanish blade, that carried a double edge, and was alike suited to the purpose of striking or of pushing; but the soldier was always instructed to prefer the latter use of his weapon, as his own body remained less exposed, whilst he inflicted a more dangerous wound on his adversary. The legion was usually drawn up eight deep; and the regular distance of three feet was left between the files as well as ranks. A body of troops, habituated to preserve this open order, in a long front and a rapid charge, found themselves prepared to execute every disposition which the circumstances of war, or the skill of their leader, might suggest. The soldier possessed a free space for his arms and motions, and sufficient intervals were allowed, through which seasonable reenforcements might be introduced to the relief of the exhausted combatants. The tactics of the Greeks and Macedonians were formed on very different principles. The strength of the phalanx depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes, wedged together in the closest array. But it was soon discovered by reflection, as well as by the event, that the strength of the phalanx was unable to contend with the activity of the legion.

The cavalry, without which the force of the legion would have remained imperfect, was divided into ten troops or squadrons; the first, as the companion of the first cohort, consisted of a hundred and thirty-two men; whilst each of the other nine amounted only to sixty-six. The entire establishment formed a regiment, if we may use the modern expression, of seven hundred and twenty-six horse, naturally connected with its respective legion, but occasionally separated to act in the line, and to compose a part of the wings of the army. The cavalry of the emperors was no longer composed, like that of the ancient republic, of the noblest youths of Rome and Italy, who, by performing their military service on horseback, prepared themselves for the offices of senator and consul; and solicited, by deeds of valor, the future suffrages of their countrymen. Since the alteration of manners and government, the most wealthy of the equestrian order were engaged in the administration of justice, and of the revenue; and whenever they embraced the profession of arms, they were immediately intrusted with a troop of horse, or a cohort of foot. Trajan and Hadrian formed their cavalry from the same provinces, and the same class of their subjects, which recruited the ranks of the legion. The horses were bred, for the most part, in Spain or Cappadocia. The Roman troopers despised the complete armor with which the cavalry of the East was encumbered. Their more useful arms consisted in a helmet, an oblong shield, light boots, and a coat of mail. A javelin, and a long broad sword, were their principal weapons of offence. The use of lances and of iron maces they seem to have borrowed from the barbarians.

Edward Gibbon, “Chapter I: The Extent Of The Empire In The Age Of The Antonines — Part II”, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1782.

December 14, 2015

The eternal “Ma Deuce”

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page on one of the longest-serving (and still serving) weapons in the US arsenal:

M2 machine gun (via Wikimedia)

M2 machine gun (via Wikimedia)

A U.S. Army facility that is upgrading older 12.7mm (.50 caliber) M2 noticed that a lot of the guns coming in were quite old. M2 production began in 1921 and some three million have been produced since then. No one every kept track of how long M2s lasted. That question was recently answered when an M2 came in with serial number 324, meaning it was produced during the first year and was 94 years old. The serial number was on the receiver, the heaviest component of the M2 (25.5 kg/55 pounds in the most common version) and the one component that rarely wears out. In contrast the barrel is worn out after about 3,000 rounds and most other components eventually need replacement because of wear or damage. But the receiver is quite a sturdy block of machined metal.

Unfortunately for 324 the extent of the latest M2 upgrades means that it is often considered cheaper to scrap pre-World War II M2s rather than perform a number of accumulated fixes and modifications. But since 324 is the oldest to show up so far it will be displayed as a museum piece.

The M2 has lasted so long because it proved to be the most reliable and durable machine-gun of any caliber ever produced. That durability meant receivers would, if they could avoid battle damage or accidents, serve on and on. The army is seeing proof of that as more and more quite ancient receivers come back for which are mandatory and army-wide upgrades. Because of thus a lot of weapons NCOs have been checking their inventories and as they did that the word began spreading on the Internet (even army armorers have their own online forums) that there were a lot of very old M2 receivers out there.

December 12, 2015

This is a case where the satire is just too close to the reality

Filed under: Humour, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Duffelblog usually comes up with wild and wacky variations on real military topics that are so way-out-there that even Second Lieutenants (and a few Captains) can often tell that they’re satire. This, on the other hand, is one where it’s hard to determine if there’s any satirical content at all:

“His mistake was announcing facts,” Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper (Ret.) said. “When faced with facts contrary to what the military and Congress wants, the facts must be changed. It’s standard procedure.”

Van Riper was speaking from experience. In 2002 he was the opposing general in the 2002 Millennium Challenge, where he led an inferior foe to victory against American forces. The exercise was started over with rule changes to ensure Van Riper could not win again.

“Politicians want wars to be won with progressive politics and technology made by contractors who donate to their campaigns,” Van Riper said. “Contractors were pitching technology to stop IEDs but war games showed more recon flights searching for people planting IEDs were a better solution. We destroyed those results so we might get some cool laser cannons or something.”

Not all negative results are suppressed. A study found that despite an Army Optimism Program, 52 percent of soldiers had low morale. The Army took quick action to solve this problem by lowering the threshold of what it considered an unhappy soldier. Now only 9 percent of soldiers have low morale.

Pretending a problem doesn’t exist has become the DoD standard, according to senior defense officials. In fact, according to data released by the Secretary of Defense’s office, dozens of commendations have been awarded to commanders in recent years for redefining success. The award, called the “Silver Lining Star” is generally given to leaders who have “made lemonade when life gives you lemons.”

November 28, 2015

QotD: Recruiting and training Rome’s legions

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

In the purer ages of the commonwealth, the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest as well as duty to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade. The legions themselves, even at the time when they were recruited in the most distant provinces, were supposed to consist of Roman citizens. That distinction was generally considered, either as a legal qualification or as a proper recompense for the soldier; but a more serious regard was paid to the essential merit of age, strength, and military stature. In all levies, a just preference was given to the climates of the North over those of the South: the race of men born to the exercise of arms was sought for in the country rather than in cities; and it was very reasonably presumed, that the hardy occupations of smiths, carpenters, and huntsmen, would supply more vigor and resolution than the sedentary trades which are employed in the service of luxury. After every qualification of property had been laid aside, the armies of the Roman emperors were still commanded, for the most part, by officers of liberal birth and education; but the common soldiers, like the mercenary troops of modern Europe, were drawn from the meanest, and very frequently from the most profligate, of mankind.

That public virtue, which among the ancients was denominated patriotism, is derived from a strong sense of our own interest in the preservation and prosperity of the free government of which we are members. Such a sentiment, which had rendered the legions of the republic almost invincible, could make but a very feeble impression on the mercenary servants of a despotic prince; and it became necessary to supply that defect by other motives, of a different, but not less forcible nature — honor and religion. The peasant, or mechanic, imbibed the useful prejudice that he was advanced to the more dignified profession of arms, in which his rank and reputation would depend on his own valor; and that, although the prowess of a private soldier must often escape the notice of fame, his own behavior might sometimes confer glory or disgrace on the company, the legion, or even the army, to whose honors he was associated. On his first entrance into the service, an oath was administered to him with every circumstance of solemnity. He promised never to desert his standard, to submit his own will to the commands of his leaders, and to sacrifice his life for the safety of the emperor and the empire. The attachment of the Roman troops to their standards was inspired by the united influence of religion and of honor. The golden eagle, which glittered in the front of the legion, was the object of their fondest devotion; nor was it esteemed less impious than it was ignominious, to abandon that sacred ensign in the hour of danger. These motives, which derived their strength from the imagination, were enforced by fears and hopes of a more substantial kind. Regular pay, occasional donatives, and a stated recompense, after the appointed time of service, alleviated the hardships of the military life, whilst, on the other hand, it was impossible for cowardice or disobedience to escape the severest punishment. The centurions were authorized to chastise with blows, the generals had a right to punish with death; and it was an inflexible maxim of Roman discipline, that a good soldier should dread his officers far more than the enemy. From such laudable arts did the valor of the Imperial troops receive a degree of firmness and docility unattainable by the impetuous and irregular passions of barbarians.

And yet so sensible were the Romans of the imperfection of valor without skill and practice, that, in their language, the name of an army was borrowed from the word which signified exercise. Military exercises were the important and unremitted object of their discipline. The recruits and young soldiers were constantly trained, both in the morning and in the evening, nor was age or knowledge allowed to excuse the veterans from the daily repetition of what they had completely learnt. Large sheds were erected in the winter-quarters of the troops, that their useful labours might not receive any interruption from the most tempestuous weather; and it was carefully observed, that the arms destined to this imitation of war, should be of double the weight which was required in real action. It is not the purpose of this work to enter into any minute description of the Roman exercises. We shall only remark, that they comprehended whatever could add strength to the body, activity to the limbs, or grace to the motions. The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, to run, to leap, to swim, to carry heavy burdens, to handle every species of arms that was used either for offence or for defence, either in distant engagement or in a closer onset; to form a variety of evolutions; and to move to the sound of flutes in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. In the midst of peace, the Roman troops familiarized themselves with the practice of war; and it is prettily remarked by an ancient historian who had fought against them, that the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished a field of battle from a field of exercise. It was the policy of the ablest generals, and even of the emperors themselves, to encourage these military studies by their presence and example; and we are informed that Hadrian, as well as Trajan, frequently condescended to instruct the unexperienced soldiers, to reward the diligent, and sometimes to dispute with them the prize of superior strength or dexterity. Under the reigns of those princes, the science of tactics was cultivated with success; and as long as the empire retained any vigor, their military instructions were respected as the most perfect model of Roman discipline.

Edward Gibbon, “Chapter I: The Extent Of The Empire In The Age Of The Antonines — Part II”, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1782.

November 26, 2015

Britain’s latest military and strategic five-year plan

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Back in 2010, the British government published the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which I joked should properly have been called the “Slashing Damage to Strategic Resources” plan. Back then, the strategic picture was fairly undisturbed with no obvious rising threats, but the economy was still in bad shape. That meant that the RN, RAF, and the army had to cut, cut, cut (and cut some more). The next version of that document has just been published and this time it’s been joined to the National Security Strategy in a single document. Patrick Bury looks at how things have changed from SDSR 2010 to the new NSSSDSR 2015:

On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled Britain’s new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review in the House of Commons. It marked the first time the United Kingdom has undertaken a review of its strategy and security within the new five-year schedule. This edition is also notable in that it combines the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which were previously two separate documents. True to its name, the NSS outlines the perceived threats to Britain and its vision for dealing with them, while the SDSR details how the armed forces are configured to execute this vision.

These developments point to a realization in the United Kingdom that it must be more flexible and responsive in terms of setting strategy and defense priorities. After introducing the NSS in 2010 in the wake of criticism that Britain “couldn’t do strategy,” the Conservative government clearly feels it now makes sense to present both policies in a single document. Similarly, the overarching tone of the document is one of internationality. Britain clearly believes it will be working with the United States and France especially closely in the future. But what is inside, and what does it mean?

The NSS related-chapters outline the usual myriad of threats commonly listed in the post-Cold War era. Based on the security services’ National Security Risk Assessment, these threats are then classed into tiers. Tier One risks are the highest priority based on high likelihood and/or high impact. Reflecting the impact of threats and hazards, and the development of risks since 2010, the latest assessment includes a greater number of Tier One risks than in 2012. These are listed in order as terrorism, cyber, international military conflict (rising since 2010), instability overseas (Tier Two in 2010), public health (a new addition), and natural disasters. Interestingly, the general erosion of international order and resulting chaos also makes a more significant appearance.

Here’s the quick overview of what is promised this time around:

UK SDSR 2015 summary

One area that looks concerning is that the British government appears to be considering replicating the Canadian experiment with merging the military services into a “unified” structure:

Tying all these developments together, this SDSR is notable for its underlying shift towards viewing Britain’s smaller services as a single force, as unveiled in the new Joint Force 2025. Over the next decade, the core of the Joint Force will be based around an expeditionary force of around 50,000 (compared with around 30,000 planned in 2010’s Future Force 2020) and is set to include a new F-35 equipped aircraft carrier, “a land division with three brigades including a new Strike Force; an air group of combat, transport and surveillance aircraft,” and a special forces task group. Of course, the Whole Force concept underpins jointness, but one gets the sense that future SDSRs may well pave the way for the merging of all three services into one force in the name of flexibility and in the search for efficiencies. Another interesting nuance was the primacy of special forces in the document – above that of the Royal Navy which is the senior service – perhaps an indication of why the government is investing an extra £2 billion ($3 billion) in its equipment as well. The number of staff at GCHQ (the signal-intelligence agency), MI5 and MI6 (the domestic and foreign intelligence services) is to also increase by 1,900.

Despite this SDSR unveiling the first major investment, rather than reductions, in the United Kingdom’s security forces for about 25 years, there are a number of noticeable gaps. The first concerns its people. The army remains at its smallest size since the Napoleonic era; recruitment and retention is a problem across British defense; and it remains to be seen if the government’s Spending Review released tomorrow will better the terms and conditions of service. Without the right people in the right place, all the fancy kit in the world is not much use. The message is also clear that rapid-reaction forces are in fashion, and boots on the ground and long-term counter-insurgency operations are out, at least for now. The now bit is important: with a lot of these investments and the Joint Force structure not scheduled for delivery for ten years, there is plenty of scope to adjust or change course entirely between now and then. Which is exactly how the Brits do long-term strategy. Nevertheless, this SDSR is clearly intended to show that Britain wants to remain in the top tier of international powers over the coming decade.

November 25, 2015

The delaying tactics of Fabius Cunctatus

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

James Holmes suggests a few lessons modern tacticians can learn from the great Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus:

Quintus Fabius would nod knowingly at seeing the world turned upside down. Celebrated as Fabius Cunctatus (“the Delayer”), the Roman dictator lent his name to strategies whereby commanders deploy strategically defensive yet tactically offensive methods to forestall a decisive battle — all while marshaling manpower, implements of war, and other resources to right the military imbalance.

Skillfully prosecuted, a Fabian strategy proffers an opportunity to defeat a superior foe in a conventional trial of arms. And indeed, Fabius’s feats of arms earned him the nickname “Maximus” among Romans — signifying rock-star status. Historians of classical antiquity ranging from Polybius to Plutarch to Machiavelli considered him an icon of patient, guileful martial statecraft.

Polybius retells Fabius’s tale expertly. After trekking over the Alps, the Carthaginian warlord Hannibal’s army had rampaged throughout Italy, compiling a virtually unbroken record of battlefield victory. In particular, his triumph over the Roman legions at Cannae won enduring fame in Western military circles. Two millennia later General Dwight Eisenhower recalled in his memoir Crusade in Europe, “Every ground commander seeks the battle of annihilation,” maintained Eisenhower; “he tries to duplicate in modern war the classic example of Cannae.”

Granted emergency powers, Fabius assumed personal command of the legions and encamped near the Carthaginian host at Aecae. Upon learning that the Roman army was nearby, Hannibal resolved to “terrify the enemy by promptly attacking.” The Roman riposte? Nothing. No one responded to the Carthaginians’ approach. They trudged back to camp. Having acknowledged his army’s “manifest inferiority,” Fabius “made up his mind to incur no danger and not to risk a battle.”

He was ornery that way. Better to live to fight another day, and on more favorable terms. Why rush in and risk fresh disaster? Rome was fighting on home turf. Its armies were beneficiaries of an “inexhaustible supply of provisions and of men.” Fabius only needed time to tap that potential, transforming latent into kinetic military power.

November 24, 2015

Soviet military drinking in Afghanistan

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:

Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.

Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.

As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.

November 23, 2015

QotD: Bashing the drill square … it’s not actually useless

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

In September 1941, William McNeill was drafted in the US Army. He spent several months in basic training, which consisted mostly of marching around the drill field in close formation with a few dozen other men. At first McNeill thought the marching was just a way to pass the time, because his base had no weapons with which to train. But after a few weeks, when his unit began to synchronize well, he began to experience an altered state of consciousness. “Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.” McNeill fought in World War II and later became a distinguished historian. His research led him to the conclusion that the key innovation of Greek, Roman, and later European armies was the sort of synchronous drilling and marching the army had forced him to do years before.

Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.

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