Winter warfare is loosing its peculiar charm

Charlsy Panzino for Army Times

Researchers are working on a way for soldiers to generate heat in cold environments instead of piling on multiple bulky layers to their uniforms.

By applying a silver nanowire coating to the uniforms, troops could theoretically dial up the heat to keep themselves comfortable, according to researchers at U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts.

The silver nanowires form an electrically conductive network that when hooked up to a low-power battery can heat up polyester and polypropylene, research bioengineer Paola D’Angelo told Army Times.

Will Russia have 6,000 more tanks in its army?

Dave Majumdar in a piece for War is Boring under the title “Russia Will Have 6,000 More Tanks in Its Army”:

Russia is sharply curtailing the number of Soviet-era tanks that is planning to scrap. In previous years, Moscow had planned to send some 10,000 of its older model tanks to the junk yard for disposal, now that figure could be reduced to as few as 4,000.

Sounds like a massive rearmament. But then Majumdar continues:

The fact that Russia is planning on holding onto these older tanks suggests that budgetary pressures are forcing Moscow to upgrade these machines rather than build new vehicles.

Ok, so Russia will not have 6,000 more tanks in its army? The analysis is fine, and the news is interesting. But why put on a headline that is just wrong?

Compensation of reservists causes trouble for Estonia

Having a good reserve is complicated. The material and logistical requirements are obvious as a reserve is not worth much if you are not able to provide simple things like uniforms and weapons when the reservists show up for service. Denmark is a good example of a country with a large reserve of former conscripts but no clue whatsoever about how to equip the reservists if they should ever be called upon.1 But the logistical question is one of the simpler obstacles to a good force of reservists because the defense authorities can manage that alone given the necessary resources. A much more complex issue is how to create the societal support that makes it possible for reservists to combine a military commitment with their daily jobs and personal life.

A rather embarrassing display of the difficulties governments can face when trying to make favorable conditions for reservists can be found in Estonia where a story on uncovers problems with the financial compensation of soldiers during periods of military service.

In its efforts to guarantee the income of soldiers, Estonia has a system of compensation so that all reservists will receive at least something for their time. Since the government rates are lower than most people’s normal income and the prospect of losing money is a drag on potential reservists’ motivation for military service, the military authorities have engaged with employers’ organizations in joint efforts to make employers voluntarily pay the soldiers’ normal salary during the time of military reconvening. The government accompanied the efforts with a slogan saying that employers are not obligated to pay during service time but that a good employer would choose to do so anyway.

Well, turns out that the Estonian government is not a good employer by its own standards. The guidelines from the Ministry of Finance do not allow government managers to continue the payment of salaries to reservists, and indeed the computer system is set up in ways to prevent mistaken incidents of the government securing the income of employees who engage in the defense of the country.

Clearly the Estonian government should get its act together and fix this. The interesting part is that everyone quoted in the article seems to agree that this is unfortunate, but they come up with a series of bureaucratic excuses to explain the complicated nature of different parts of government having to coordinate and nobody really knowing whose responsibility it is. The article actually finishes with a representative from the Ministry of Defense saying that perhaps increasing the rates of compensation to a less painful level could be an alternative solution to the government fixing its administrative guidelines.

But no, increasing the rates of compensation is not a good solution because it still means that reservists will feel that they have to pay to be active in the military. And if the government can get away with not paying salaries for reservists, how will the government argue that private sector employers should do it? So the different branches of government must learn to work together with a common goal of having a robust reserve of soldiers to defend the government. Sure it takes some effort to harmonize the administrative guidelines to account for reservists, and the question of compensation will just be one issue out of many. But if you want a well functioning reserve, you have to invest the time to work out the kinks to make military an easy choice for the potential reservists and their employers.

  1. Denmark is looking into ways of improving conscription so the force is actually useful. Some solution is expected in the coming five-year political defense agreement that will be approved later this year. 

US should return to forward-stationed troops in Europe

John R. Deni in War On The Rocks recommends a return to a more permanently forward-stationed army.

[With] specific regard to Europe, the Pentagon should aim to station these units in Poland, either in whole or in part through split-basing. Stationing in Poland would provide greater assurance to Eastern Europe and more effectively deter aggression. Most importantly from a fiscal perspective, the Polish government has evinced a willingness to share some of the costs of construction and base operations.

According to Deni there are pretty much only advantages to having forward-stationed troops instead of relying on a scheme of rotational deployment.

Hope Estonia learned from the Kurkse Tragedy

I never heard about the Kurkse Tragedy until I saw this film on marking the 20th anniversary. 14 Estonian soldiers died while swimming across a narrow strait in unfavorable weather conditions.

When looking at this tragedy it is hard not to get surprised by the reckless behavior of the soldiers and their commanding officers. So many mistakes were made like not knowing the geography, not checking the weather, using improper techniques, not having any safety measures etc. The film gives the impression of an unhealthy and unprofessional macho-culture, and although the lieutenant in charge was later punished for negligence there clearly was more at play than individual incompetence. Accidents like this don’t happen without several breaches in the organizational structure that surround the training of soldiers. I sure hope that the procedures for exercise planning have improved in Estonia since this tragedy.

Why would the Russians have four tank programs?

If you lost sight of current Russian tank programs, Petri Mäkelä at Vantage Point North has you covered:

When these four parallel tank programs are looked at from a strategic perspective few alarming possibilities emerge. If the reason for the new modernization programs are either the delays in the T-14 Armata program on insufficient funds to purchase them in numbers, it hardly makes sense to divide the RnD and procurement funds to four separate programs.

Either the attrition from the increased training regime recently imposed to the Russian Ground Forces is proving to be too much for the older vehicles. The much more disturbing possibility is that Russia is planing to expand its military significantly or that it’s expecting massive attrition from an unspecified near future operation that have to be replaced rapidly.

On the other hand this could be the usual corruption ploy to waste government money to the completely unnecessary programs in order to allow the oligarchs and the officials to skim most of the budget in to their own pockets.

My guess is that it takes so long to produce the T-14 that they have to upgrade the older models too.

What to do with a few tanks in Tallinn

Thoughtful piece by Corporal Frisk about the possible tactical reflections behind the small number of British tanks stationed in Estonia:

Traditionally, it has been held that tanks better stay out of cities. Incidents such as the destruction of Russian motorised units and their armour support during the first battle of Grozny has added to this idea. A closer look at the history of armour in urban warfare gives a more nuanced picture, with the protection offered by heavy armour proving quite useful in urban operations. The most famous example is probably the ‘Thunder runs‘ of the 64th Armoured Regiment into downtown Baghdad, but also e.g. Israeli experiences in Gaza seem to trend towards the usage of heavy armour (both tanks and heavy APC’s) for combat operations in urban terrain. Operation Protective Edge saw no less than three armoured brigades deploy units to the strip.

Why is any of this relevant? Well, the British contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence include a single tank troop (currently from the Queen’s Royal Hussars) of three Challenger 2 MBT’s, a number so small that very relevant questions have been asked about if they really can make an impact. Then this happened.

Fatal accident at Russian tank shooting

One military engineer is dead and five are wounded at a tank shooting in Leningrad Oblast, reports RIA Novosti citing an official message from the military. Apparently the accident occurred as a tank shell changed trajectory after hitting the ground and exploded near a shelter where the engineers were located.

Now, this is a strange explanation. Ricocheting is normal behavior for shells, and danger zones are defined to prevent accidents. Either the shot was fired in a wrong direction, or the engineers were well within the closed area. Regardless, it sounds like poor safety procedures.

New Marine rotation arrives in Norway

The second rotation of American Marines has arrived in Norway, reports Marine Corps Times:

The Norwegian government has approved six-month rotations of about 300 Marines in Norway through 2018.

The Marines also store military equipment in caves near Trondheim, Norway, to make sure that a Marine Air-Ground Task Force has what it needs for cold weather training, crisis response or a humanitarian assistance mission, said 2nd Lt. Brett Lazaroff, a spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa.

The Norwegian policy differs greatly from neighboring Sweden, which at least officially insists on neutrality, and Denmark that still seems ambivalent to the new security dynamics in the region.

U.S. Army unprepared to deal with Russia in Europe

Great article by Wesley Morgan for All countries should make regular and honest analyses of their operational abilities like the one by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, but unfortunately this kind of candor is rare. Too many decision makers get amazed by the technologically impressive possibilities of new equipment, and under the constraints of tight budgets it is inconvenient to remind oneself that reliability requires multiple layers of redundant systems.

This piece caught my eye:

The common thread running through the paper is the challenge posed by Russia’s jammers and other electronic warfare tools.

An enemy equipped with these “could effectively neutralize a GPS system from 50 miles away using one-fifth the power of a tactical radio,” the report estimates, so “we should assume that GPS will be either unavailable or unreliable for the duration of the conflict if the [brigade] faces a near-peer threat or sophisticated non-state actors.”

Here, too, some of the solutions are low-tech. High-frequency or HF radios are more difficult for enemy electronic warfare specialists to pinpoint and jam than the satellite radios that have become the norm for U.S. units over the past 15 years. HF radio equipment and training have fallen by the wayside in the American military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but not in some allied militaries.

The shortfalls have required the 173rd to call on allies from Latvia to help it learn how to communicate in the face of Russian jamming — a stark indicator of how badly knowledge of a key communication method has degraded in the American force.

The fragility of GPS and satellite communication is uncanny, considering how dependent societies are on these technologies.