Monday, 19 August 2013

The future of warfare, high and low tech side by side: Part 2

Here's a scenario to explain and illuminate last weeks blog post on how the military situation could work out using Australia and surroundings (the specific scenario given is highly unlikely to be the actual case). Assume that Australia is united and is allied with New Zealand, the other states are a united New Guinea, Borneo and Timor (each separate)  and what remains of Indonesia and Malaysia (I am ignoring the various small islands), these aren't likely to be the actual states, however they'll do for this thought experiment. Additionally for simplicity's sake I am assuming no direct outside interference. For this scenario we need to define what each states military technologies are and their access to them, uses of said technology and what they import and from who they import. Then their's the integration of different tech levels in the armed forces, so if automatics are limited are they officer only, or is the other option of only elite squads being armed with them chosen. If the society has tanks but not automatics, how is combined arms used, and how do the different branches (land, air and sea) interact.

Many of these factors and their effects I can't give more than cursory guesses, but I can probably give enough detail for a war game of at least the strategic level. For exploring the military consequences that actually sounds like a good idea, since hard data is rather lacking and 'educated guessing' would have very little accuracy at all but the broadest levels. The best would be to make a system of interlocking games to simulate the global, national, strategic, tactical and operational consequences of overshoot. it would also need to be very flexible so that various concepts and the effects to different technologies can at least be guessed at and variations tested. At the very least, it would make for a dynamic, interesting and ever changing game, especially if it was strung into a series of campaigns. Besides, it would allow the current military establishment to begin exploring the military future, yes the conclusions they draw will almost certainly be wrong, but they'll be wrong anyway, this way allows for them to wing it enough times to be occasionally right. Might as well not go completely blind into an uncertain future, only mostly blind. For now I'll set out a very broad situation.

I'll be using a standardized force structure since that allows easy comparison. It also means it's easy to see where equipment is relative to an individual soldiers perspective. From the bottom up its squads (10 men) which are organized into platoons. Platoons are made up of say 1 command squad (will have the radio if limited) and 5 squads (roughly 60 men) of mixed general and specialized infantry (depending on the availability of support weapons). Above the platoons are companies which are made up of say 5 platoons (roughly 300 men)  and above the company is the regiment of say 10 companies (3000 men). Regiments are then formed into battalions and above that is the overall army. As far as I'm aware this isn't a real organizational structure. This is solely so I can say where vehicles, certain technologies, support weapons or artillery are attached and their relation to individual soldier in a standardized way. Are automatic rifles issued to only one squad in a platoon, or one company in a regiment. Are mortars assigned at the platoon level or the squad level. This is to reflect the availability of the equipment rather than how its used (so if a tank is attached to a squad it just signifies that there are more than if attached to a company), so rifles at the squad level represent a wide availability of them, while with tanks being attached to companies represents a low availability while them being attached at the platoon level means a medium availability. With vehicles and artillery being in separate units represents the highest availability. Tanks, even if there aren't that many will likely be massed because by doing so they enhance each over more than if they were separate.

Here's the list of equipment I'll be examining, there are assumptions behind them but their not so important at the moment. It is solely to easily examine the differences at a glance.

Automatic or non-automatic rifles. Rifling refers to the grooves inside a gun barrel that are supposed to cause the bullet to spin, giving it increased accuracy and range. All guns will be rifles (except for a few exceptions when it's disadvantageous), but the variable will be if their automatic or not. While in certain terrain and areas bows or crossbows would be better/equal, assume their under non-automatic rifles.

Radios: Does every soldier have a walkie-talkie or does only one man in a squad carry a radio, or is it only the command squad. Basically how fine grain is the armies communication system and therefor how flexible is it in battle. Take it for a proxy of overall communication equipment and tactical communication network, though the strategic communication is likely to be excellent for all sides (at least during the start of any wars or conflicts).

Availability of infantry support weapons: Machine (or Gatling) guns, Mortars, anti-tank guns, small artillery pieces and rockets. Do infantry rely solely on their rifles or are their support weapons nearby and how rare are they. Can only the command squad use them or do individual squads get armed with them.

Bikes and Velomobiles (interchangeable with horses for now): Since motor transport will decline, bikes will see a renewed usage in warfare. Mostly for quick transport and communications. While bike machine guns have always been problematic, velomobiles offer a far more stable platform and could also tow heavier guns. Its also possible for dragoons to return (effectively mounted infantry) using either bikes or horses.

Vehicles: Tanks, Jeeps, trucks anything that's normally powered by an internal combustion engine, but here it could be other engines. It's divided up into transports (APC's, trucks etc) and fighting vehicles (IFV's, tanks, technicals etc). How common are they, are they in separate units or only attached to something etc. While fighting vehicles and transports are different, for these purposes assume it refers to both.

Artillery: Big guns that lob explosive shells around, additionally anti aircraft guns. This refers to anything bigger than a squad support weapon and generally needs to be towed around by a motor vehicle,  horse(s) or theoretically velomobiles and/or bikes (though the lighter pieces can be carried by infantry).  While artillery has always been important for siege operations, it has only been since the 30 years war when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden used light field guns that their capabilities on the battlefield were fully realized.

Aircraft: Three major roles; air superiority, recon and strike. The main variables are whether their imported or not, how they are attached and how many roles can be reliably filled. If comparing individual planes, they can be relatively inferior, superior or equal, but we don't need to do that here and the assumption will be that they are all roughly equal.

Capital ships: Since both aircraft and missiles will be greatly weakened along with the likely return of armor, battleships and other big ships will likely appear. Capital ships are the most important ships (for the fleet battles) and will here refer to big aircraft carriers, battleships, dreadnoughts etc. I'll assume every navy has roughly the same technology, since any navy which doesn't have the best technology isn't very worthwhile outside of anti-piracy operations and defense under the cover of fort guns/minefields.

Small ships: Any ship which isn't a capital ship, so up to a battle cruiser. Battle cruisers are normally capital ships, but their not designed for actual fleet battles but to engage in what small ships normally do, so their small ships for functional purposes. The British found that out the hard way at the Battle of Jutland, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" is the appropriate quote (they exploded fairly quickly). Small ships mainly work as escorts, raiders or patrol ships. They are incredibly important as they do the majority of a navies work, though they cannot do the important work (in large scale wars) of large scale battles. Only very weak powers import small ships (except the cruisers). In order of size; corvette, frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battle cruiser.

Submarines: Submarines are very high tech, but open up  a new dimension of naval warfare. Assume torpedoes stay effective, so they can potentially destroy capital ships (The Collins class has in war games). Only the strongest states build their own and most powers import theirs, if they have any. Assume that the ones here are all small and so have limited operational range and capabilities.

An important variable not included here is the type of soldiers, e.g professional, militia, conscript, mercenary, feudal, seasonal etc and how big the armed forces are. Since this is focused on examining the technology, we can ignore that for now. For this assume standing professional armies with significant use of conscript/volunteers during wartime.

Each variable will have a value out of 10, the higher the better but obviously terrain and infrastructure would affect each variables usefulness in any theater. Its solely to allow quick comparisons and isn't that accurate and thus will miss many things.

New Zealand
Rifles: Since its a small elite force, everyone is equipped with automatics. 10
Radios: Ditto, every one has a walkie-talkie. 10
Support weapons: High access to support weapons at the squad level. 10
Bikes and Velomobiles: Whenever needed, they're available. 10
Vehicles: A fair amount of vehicles, work as attached units to regiments.5
Artillery: same as vehicles. 5
Aircraft: Only for recon and limited defense purposes. 4
Capital Ships: Only 2 imported from Australia. 3
Small ships: A small force. 5
Submarines: Has 3 imported from Australia. 4

Rifles: Most have automatics, however some regiments only have non-automatic. 7
Radios: Available at the squad level most of the time. 8
Support weapons: Available at the platoon level as support squads, Machine guns in squads. 8
Bikes and Velomobiles: Readily available. 10
Vehicles: Enough to organize into separate units. 10
Artillery:  Same as above. 10
Aircraft: Full range of aircraft. 10
Capital Ships: Produces Capital ships and exports them to allies or far away powers. 10
Small ships: Large amount and variety of small ships. 10
Submarines: Has submarines and produces them. 10

Rifles: Fair access to automatics from China, half of their regiments have them. 6
Radios: Access on the platoon level. 7
Support weapons: Some platoons have support squads. 7
Bikes and Velomobiles: Readily available. 10
Vehicles: Can attach to companies. 5
Artillery: Every regiment has Artillery. 6
Aircraft: Can import full range from China and makes some. 8
Capital Ships: Only 1 imported from Russia. 1
Small ships: Fair amount of small ships. 7
Submarines: 1 imported submarine. 1

Rifles: Half of the regiments have rifles. 5
Radios: Access on the platoon level. 7
Support weapons: Only as attachments to some companies. 5
Bikes and Velomobiles: Readily available. 10
Vehicles: can attach to regiments. 3
Artillery: same as vehicles. 3
Aircraft: Can import all from china but can only make recon planes. 7
Capital Ships: 3 capital ships.4
Small ships: Large amount of small ships. 8
Submarines: 3 imported submarine.3

New Guinea
Rifles:Very few automatics. 3
Radios: Access on the company level. 3
Support weapons: Available to a few regiments. 3
Bikes and Velomobiles: Very few bikes. 2
Vehicles: Very few overall. 2
Artillery: can attach to regiments. 3
Aircraft: Can only afford recon. 3
Capital Ships: Cannot create or afford capital ships. 0
Small ships: Some small ships. 3
Submarines: No subs. 0

United Timor
Rifles: Half of the regiments use imported automatics. 4
Radios: Access on company level and some platoons as well. 4
Support weapons: Available to companies. 5
Bikes and Velomobiles: A few bikes. 3
Vehicles: Very few overall. 2
Artillery: can attach to regiments. 3
Aircraft: can only afford recon. 3
Capital Ships: Cannot create or afford capital ships. 0
Small ships: a handful of small ships. 2
Submarines: No subs. 0

Rifles: Most regiments have automatics. 8
Radios: Access on the platoon level, some squads as well.7
Support weapons: Available to platoons as support squads. 8
Bikes and Velomobiles: Readily available. 10
Vehicles: can attach to companies. 5
Artillery: can attach to companies. 5
Aircraft: can build recon and air superiority, imports strike. 7
Capital Ships: 3 capital ships. 4
Small ships: A large amount of small ships. 7
Submarines: A couple of subs. 5

Above I have assumed a fairly common level of technology (one side is not solely armed with muskets). That sort of imbalance (muskets vs automatics) will probably exist, possible even worse ones. I also haven't taken into account terrain and differences if the side was an attacker or defender. United Timor could be supreme in war because it always fights defensively, simply mines its harbors and could rely on significant foreign help. The only nod to those circumstances is that New Guinea and Timor have very few bikes, because they're relatively mountainous and therefor they aren't as useful. Its also highly unlikely to be the actual equivalent values they will be in the future as these values are nothing more than really rough estimates. A more detailed scenario would have drastically different technologies, and detail the spread of technologies in each military.

A far more detailed and realistic model could be constructed, but it would take far more time and research than I can do at the moment. Also you'd have to figure out the political future of India, since their a major power and them being united or divided makes a huge difference (same with China). As well as the situation of Indochina (a Vietnamese empire for example) since that impacts directly on everyone north of Australia. Due to the clipper routes likely return, South America and southern Africa also have an important, it's only around 40 days along the clipper route if you only stay in the south which is fairly close time-wise.

This environment of widely varying technology and capabilities will foster a great deal of tactical and strategic innovation. While there are certainly many constants in war, the suite of technologies used radically changes the tactical landscape (compare Napoleonic warfare to Roman), force mixtures (artillery is far more important than it used to be) and various strategic concerns, such as logistics and speed. Understanding the demands, strengths and weaknesses of the various technologies will be crucial to any competent strategist or tactician. Jettisoning the idea that better equipment means an army is automatically superior is also needed as all it does is cause the perception of military strength to be unduly focused on technology. The infrastructure requirements, tactical or strategic speed, what attributes (initiative, discipline, forms of courage etc) do they require, hinder or enable. All these and many more are key questions to understanding the post-peak military landscape.


  1. Hi,

    Most of the conflicts we can look back upon were fought in a relatively stable or slightly improving conditions - maybe not locally but at least in the big picture I would say.

    If we go into a bad overshoot the dynamics - and possibly risk taking - may change.

    Already there've been many examples of weapons that weren't used for fear of losing them .
    It'd be a bit embarrassing if next year's parade didn't have a flyover anymore because we lost our airforce.
    Or perhaps worse - our battleship lost power, got starved and eventually taken over by the enemy.

    Out-maintaining an enemy, while performing sting operations may be perceived as politically more viable.

    I wonder - will parties adhere to elaborate rules of conduct?

    What will the role of biological agents be? As they are undestood far better than back in medieval times they should be highly attractive. You get a lot of bang (or rather cough) for the buck.
    That would not bode well for civilians. Maybe it would warrant a closer look at the native american collapse.

    What role will prisoners play?
    How likely is forced labor or draft for the population?

    I could imagine that tactics for temporarily disabling hardware, not destroying it may become significantly more attractive.
    Inversely I could imagine that squads and teams will usually be given "expensive" or reusable gear only in low concentrations. That way there is someone whose duty it is to bring it back/secure/destroy it if the operator becomes a casualty.

    Then there's mobility, which I assume will be a major issue for land forces as energy density decreases.
    How many horses do you need to pull a tank?

    Leading a mechanized attack is then immensely risky if you go into a deep defenese you haven't done reconnaissance on extensively. If you lack good weather forecasting it dosn't help either.

    How likely are (partially reusable) guided munitions? I guess not vey likely.

  2. @ Latefall

    The weapons that aren't used in case of lose, generally act as political weapons. The idea is if say China is causing problems to Taiwan, you sent a carrier fleet in to show them who's boss. Happens to empires, Roman legions acted similarly in the Middle-east (only works against literate enemies).

    There have been (and in some places are) elaborate war rules. Generally there for tribal people or stable times. Eventually they are broken.

    Biological weapons have a lot of benefits, but they come with quite a few disadvantages. It only worked against the American natives because they had never encountered communal disease (no livestock). That advantage has disappeared with wide-spread travel.

    Making a new one is very problematic, genetic diversity among humans is lower than a normal chimpanzee band. Also the variable of lethality competes with incubation time.

    Throwing rotting cows at defenders is as sophisticated as it will likely get. Since their better understood, it's also easier to defend against (personal hygiene, sewers etc). Vaccinations could be preserved, it's during the collapse that coverage could disappear.

    Prisoners will play a similar role as in past wars, forced labour (Japanese WWII) or like prisoners from WWII where treated in Australia. My granduncle was an Italian prisoner who worked on a farm here after being captured.

    Hardware is going to in one sense change completely, but in another it'll still be the same.

    Mobility is often more dependent on organization and discipline, but trains will likely make up the bulk of transport. Logistics is where it gets hard.

    Guided munitions are possible, not anywhere near as good as today's. Won't be particularly common.

  3. Well one point with bio weapons may be that you don't want them to kill off the population entirely.
    Imagine your band of raiders lies in hiding while you have someone poison the local village well.

    Sickness spreads, old people die, able people have to care for the sick. Then you march in with your immune/protected force and abduct the most useful part of the population with all the riches they can carry and leave the rest to fend for themselves.

    Hurling cows at a fortified and disciplined defender seems more like an act of desperation in comparison.

    As for same but different hardware - I was wondering about spears lately.
    The are very versatile, easy to make, and offer quite attractive capabilities I would say.
    Back in their day they were of course limited due to the fact that if it did not hit it might come back for you. So you had to be fairly close to get acceptable hit probability and reduce the enemy's reaction time.

    But if you have some guidance to fix hit probability, or some timed or proximity fuse for explosives this is largely fixed.
    I would imagine a fairly well trained unit could pull off a pretty nasty night time ambush.

    About strutting around with political weapons - that's exactly what I'd want to achieve with sting operations. I'd want to get you out in the rain and snow. Impose the high logistics and maintenance cost on you. And then on the one day you are bogged we may come out and probe your defences. If we like what we see we see we
    come after you in force. If not we'll keep disrupting your logistics in the field.

  4. @ Latefall

    The problem with bio-weapons like that is that plagues aren't just caused by the infectious agent. Often they'd come after famines, several during the end of Rome only happened because of widespread malnutrition. Sieges could also cause plagues, Athens lost most of its population during a multi-year siege to plague. That's why rotten cows (and sometimes corpses) were thrown at defenders, the cramped conditions and slow starvation rendered the population much more susceptible to disease. It wasn't all that reliable, but it worked every now and then.

    But getting them to spread is one of the biggest difficulties. What happens with some natural disease (like Ebola) that are quick killers is that they "burnout" because people get sick before they can spread the disease (or die) while having a longer incubation time makes it more likely to be detected and treated. Not impossible, but not an easy operation to pull off.

    The Roman spears had a weak metal attaching the spear head to the shaft, broke on contact. My guess is that from a broad view, most of the equipment will be sort-of similar. Most of the changes will happen in integrating it into a massively different logistical system and allowing local repair.

    The problem with hit and run tactics is that it requires a certain enemy and situations. If you have some critical piece of infrastructure or assets, they can simply force a battle. Some of the new tactics in Iraq (which have by and large worked) do something similar, force the enemy to directly confront them and negate the opportunity to run. The Roman legions did the same thing in the east, since they ruled in high intensity warfare they'd threaten cities or irrigation systems. Otherwise they'd use auxiliaries or wipe out entire tribes. There are a few desert tribes which the only proof of existence is a scrap of paper detailing their destruction (in Latin). It can work, but not always.