Lukashenko not allowed in Russia during Zapad 2017

Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko will not visit the Russian part of exercise Zapad 2017. Kommersant.ru reports that Lukashenko was scheduled to appear at training sites in Russia alongside Vladimir Putin but for unknown reasons the plans have changed. Putin may still show up to spectate the exercise in Russia but Lukashenko will only observe the exercise on Belarusian training grounds.

During Zapad 2013 the two presidents appeared together in both countries but this year something is different. I guess the Russians are really serious about not allowing foreign observers to the exercise on their territory.

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.

Micromanagement or proper oversight?

Insightful piece by Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy on the principal-agent relationship between politicians and the military:

Yet, in every conversation I have had with civilian and military officials, I cannot recall a military officer — at any level — having received guidance or direction that was helpful in developing plans or in fulfilling a mission. The recalled examples of interference are always detrimental, wasteful, or, at best, pointless. The fact of the matter is that many senior military officers who do not receive the autonomy, latitude, or funding to do what they want to do — within the timeframe that they want to do it — claim they are being “micromanaged.” But it’s important to recognize that this impression is both subjective and selective. One person’s intrusive micromanagement is another’s proper attention to detail.
[…]
The demonstrable rise in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes is most likely the result of several factors, as discussed in previous pieces I’ve written. But the basic point is that Mattis’s judgment has proven incorrect. That should be no surprise. Everything we know from organizational studies suggests that managers and staffers immersed in day-to-day repetitive tasks (like military campaigns) eschew competing values-based priorities — particularly when senior leaders direct them to accelerate their efforts and narrow their mission, as has been true with the war against the Islamic State under Mattis’s watch.

Civilian oversight is so inconvenient but man, do we need it. The whole article is well worth the read.

Exercise scenarios tend to be a waste of time

The fictional scenario for Zapad 2017 has gone viral as a joke on social media, and that has led The Wall Street Journal to write a piece on the made-up settings that militaries use for training:

The U.S., its NATO allies, Russia and other militaries around the world use fictional scenarios to make their military drills more sophisticated. They require soldiers to understand the political environment and motivations of the people they are trying to protect, and defeat.

It’s hard to fathom the amount of time staff officers around the world spend drafting these sophisticated scenarios so that other officers can spend time trying to figure out what the heck the exercise is about. The funny thing is that for the most part the scenario is absolutely irrelevant to the desired learning outcome of the training. I say just make a good exercise and don’t spend time overthinking the scenario.

Hope Estonia learned from the Kurkse Tragedy

I never heard about the Kurkse Tragedy until I saw this film on Delfi.ee 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.

Danish military to relieve strained police force

Denmark will use soldiers to relieve the police force.

In a historic agreement the Danish government has decided to use soldiers as a temporary reinforcement of the police force. The soldiers will perform guard duties primarily on the border to Germany and around Jewish facilities in Copenhagen.

Continue reading “Danish military to relieve strained police force”

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.