Review: Big Boys Don’t Cry

Big Boys Don’t Cry (Tom Kratman; Castalia House) is a short novel which begins innocently enough as an apparent pastiche of Keith Laumer’s Bolo novels and short stories. Kratman’s cybernetic “Ratha” tanks, dispassionately deploying fearsome weapons but somehow equipped to understand human notions of honor and duty, seem very familiar.

But an element generally alien to the Bolo stories and Kratman’s previous military fiction gradually enters: moral doubt. A Ratha who thinks of herself as “Magnolia” is dying, being dismantled for parts after combat that nearly destroyed her, and reviews her memories. She mourns her brave lost boys, the powered-armor assault infantry that rode to battle in in her – and, too often, died when deployed – before human turned front-line war entirely to robots. Too often, she remembers, her commanders were cowardly, careless, or venal. She has been ordered to commit and then forget atrocities which she can now remember because the breakdown of her neural-analog pathways is deinhibiting her.

The ending is dark, but necessary. The whole work is a little surprising coming from Kratman, who knows and conveys that war is hell but has never before shown much inclination to question its ethical dimension at this level. At the end, he comes off almost like the hippies and peaceniks he normally despises.

There is one important difference, however. Kratman was combat career military who has put his own life on the line to defend his country; he understands that as ugly as war is, defeat and surrender can be even worse. In this book he seems to be arguing that the morality of a war is bounded above by the amount of self-sacrifice humans are willing to offer up to earn victory. When war is too easy, the motives for waging it become too easily corrupted.

As militaries steadily replace manned aircraft with drones and contemplate replacing infantry with gun-robots, this is a thought worth pondering.

195 thoughts on “Review: Big Boys Don’t Cry

  1. A friend was telling me about the evils of combat drones. I said, “I think they’re great.”

    “Why?” he asked.

    i said: “Because the alternative is a sweating American soldier with aching feet, carrying too damn much gear. I’ve been that soldier, and I would far rather have been in an air conditioned trailer somewhere controlling a robot.”

  2. BTW, @esr, did you get “War Stories” anthology ed. Andrew Liptak (for review)?

  3. >BTW, @esr, did you get “War Stories” anthology ed. Andrew Liptak (for review)?

    I did, and it’s in my queue.

  4. http://forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/athene-reads-tom-kratmans-big-boys-dont-cry-keith-laumer-is-rolling-over-in-his-grave.5806/

    Athene of Sufficient Velocity (and formerly of Spacebattles.com) turns in an opposing viewpoint.

    Basically, Big Boys Don’t Cry is a screed against/straw man takedown of liberalism, by the author’s own admission. No surprise that it’s published by Castalia House; stories like this are why that publisher exists.

    Most alarming is Kratman’s comically, creepily “retro” notions of womanhood, and of gender itself, expressed in a manner about as tactful and classy as David Gonterman wrestling with his own homophobia through Sailor Moon characters.

    And people wonder why there’s such a backlash against conservatives in SF.

  5. i said: “Because the alternative is a sweating American soldier with aching feet, carrying too damn much gear. I’ve been that soldier, and I would far rather have been in an air conditioned trailer somewhere controlling a robot.”

    The alternative is to find non-warfare solutions whenever possible. The problem with drones is that they greatly reduce the risk of force projection, incentivizing governments to resort to it sooner. We’ve suffered through two particularly hawkish administrations recently, one of which feels entitled to execute even Americans without trial by drone. The last thing we need is an expanded drone capability and the attendant expanded penchant for violence among the higher-ups in Washington.

  6. Haven’t read the novel, but it is funny you mention combat drones because I was just thinking about them recently.

    As you all know the US Navy isn’t just big, it is insanely huge, so large it could probably take down all the other navies in the world combined. If I remember rightly the US has twice as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined.

    The aircraft carrier is one of the most important, paradigm shifting weapons of the 20th century because it allows the projection of power, mainly air power, anywhere in the world and is at the pinnacle of the United States’ defense strategy.

    What got me thinking about this is that drones are being developed to launch and land on carriers. But my question is why bother with the carrier?

    At the moment drones are a little limited, to observation and limited kills, but with a better fleet of drones capable of all functions — air superiority, tankers, bombers and so forth, things could be quite different.

    The basic purpose of an aircraft carrier is to provide a launch pad for short range aircraft, but if these aircraft can be launched from home territory, and supported with a constantly rotating mesh of tankers in and out all automatically controlled, that allow the aircraft to fly twenty thousand miles there and back, with tankers resupplying tankers then an aircraft carrier really isn’t necessary. Remote pilots could control the aircraft only in their terminal phases.

    An aircraft carrier costs ten billion dollars and costs 2 million dollars a day to run. You can get a lot of drones for that. And of course the biggest thing of all is that an aircraft carrier is a gigantic single point of failure. In a sense about 50% of the Navy is there to protect the carriers, but despite that a Chinese sub still popped out in the middle of a carrier group recently. Leverage is one $10,000 torpedo taking out one $10,000,000,000 carrier.

    Of course drones are a lot more vulnerable, but they are not a single point of failure.

    Drones are not there yet of course. But aircraft carriers are 50 year investments, an in 50 years, drones will, in my opinion, have almost completely replaced manned aircraft.

    (BTW, to shortcut any discussion, I am not talking about autonomous drones, I am talking about remotely piloted drones, which are quite a different thing. People still pull the trigger, however they can now do it while executing a 20g turn.)

  7. I recently encountered a news article that described how even remote pilots of drones feel the weight of pulling the trigger on drone weapon systems. Being thousands of miles away doesn’t change the immediate moral implications of such technology. Having said that, the article also discussed how the Armed Forces were trying to find ways to mitigate this moral responsibility.

    If I recall correctly, they were exploring techniques to “pull the trigger”, but give the machine the final decision whether or not a bomb should be dropped, and when. That way, the soldier isn’t the one actually dropping the bomb. (I find this technique to be somewhat unlikely to work because, ultimately, if I were pulling the trigger, I would still be making the decision to do so.)

    Certainly, the moral issues behind machine use in warfare definitely need to be explored! It will be interesting to see how they play out in both real life and in fiction as we grapple with them.

    In the meantime, I also remember learning of a new sport that was invented in Great Britain, of all places: one person uses a shotgun while another person pilots a remote-controlled airplane. I think we would do well to adopt this as a sport for ourselves! (If for no other reason than as a reminder that we need to be ready for the possible need to figure out how to do this in a potential civil war…)

  8. >Athene of Sufficient Velocity (and formerly of Spacebattles.com) turns in an opposing viewpoint.

    Which mostly seems to be her rather childishly projecting her personal issues all over the book. A shame she couldn’t give Kratman any credit for trying to extend his range. The attempt may be clumsy in some ways, but at least he’s making it.

  9. >But aircraft carriers are 50 year investments, an in 50 years, drones will, in my opinion, have almost completely replaced manned aircraft.

    Oh, much sooner than that. And the change will go further than you think.

    Now, I suppose, is the time to reveal that I have written an essay titled “Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower” and had it accepted for an upcoming anthology called Ride the Red Horse edited by the selfsame Tom Kratman who wrote Big Boys Don’t Cry.

    You are not, as it turns out, thinking radically enough.

  10. Athene has a long-running issue with Tom Kratman (and he with her in turn: the mention of unit THN is his binary-4 salute to her previous nickname Thanatos); one suspects her review is somewhat less than objective.

  11. Lasers and aircraft, hmm…. I imagine you go somewhat beyond what Kratman has touched on in his Terra Nuova novels?

    Alpheus: I dislike the idea of turning over moral decisions to machines. Take the current battles in Gaza, for example: There’s a house with x number of rockets in it and y number of civilian human shields standing on the roof—do you take the shot or not? Boil that down to an algorithm and (a) the UN alphabet soup of agencies will have something to point at in their criticism (“your algorithms are too bloodthirsty!”), but more importantly (b) Hamas will game the system, making sure there are always enough women and children on the roof to override the algorithm.

    (I suspect a system that can meta-game this would require Strong AI—and there’s no way I’m turning moral decisions over to that.)

  12. Athene has a long-running issue with Tom Kratman (and he with her in turn: the mention of unit THN is his binary-4 salute to her previous nickname Thanatos); one suspects her review is somewhat less than objective.

    Gee, I wonder why she has such an issue? The way he inserted her into his story was deeply offensively tacky. Hell even I with all my cismale privilege am revolted by it. And to quote a recent Weird Al song, if you think that’s okay then you might be tacky too.

  13. >who has put his own life on the line to defend his country

    Facile, glib, or trite? The military hasn’t “defended” the country since, what, WWII? It’s all been opportunistic little offensive scuffles since then.

  14. >The military hasn’t “defended” the country since, what, WWII? It’s all been opportunistic little offensive scuffles since then.

    I’m not sure about that. I mean, wasn’t America’s intervention in Korea and Vietnam meant to stop the expansion of communism, which threatened the democratic West in the long run?

  15. zman: None of the above. That is exactly what soldiers due. Whether the generals and politicians have made effective use of that, or if the uses were deceptive or not is an entirely separate issue.

  16. @esr
    > “Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower”

    Haven’t read your essay, obviously, but from your teaser I’d say this: I am kind of dubious about directed energy weapons, after all we have been promised ray guns for a long time. I know there has been a lot of progress recently, but it seems to me that optimistically we are decades away from the first combat use.

    It also has funky legal issues, since, although you can rip an enemy’s body to pieces with a GPMG, it apparently isn’t ok to damage their retina with a laser.

    And of course the big problem with these weapons, like any other aimed weapon, is it is damn hard to hit something you can’t see. Drones aren’t stealthy now, but they, or at least some of them, surely will be.

  17. As usual, Jeff contributes no light and a moderate amount of heat to the discussion. I can’t let this go past unanswered, though:

    “The alternative is to find non-warfare solutions whenever possible.”

    How’d that work out for Israel in Gaza?

    Jeff, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. There are many times when non-warfare solutions are not possible. Further, there’s a lot of wisdom in the Latin si vis pacem, para bellum: by being prepared for war, sometimes peaceful solutions become possible. We need to be fully prepared to fight so we won’t have to.

  18. Oh, and as for “And people wonder why there’s such a backlash against conservatives in SF.”: there’s a bigger backlash against your kind of left-wing nanny-statism than there ever was against conservatism in SF. It’s why the only people who actually read New Wave are literary fiction aficionados who wouldn’t know real SF if it bit them on the tuchis.

  19. Jessica Boxer said, “… although you can rip an enemy’s body to pieces with a GPMG, it apparently isn’t ok to damage their retina with a laser.”

    Kratman’s characters have a way around that: Use a lower-power laser, which will only temporarily blind the pilots—which will turn cause them to crash and become permanently dead, but without a violation of the rules. :twisted:

    Also, I have not noticed that jihadists are overly concerned for the niceties of international law; if the armies of civilized nations are to withstand them, it behooves military thinkers to plan against what is or will soon be possible for them to do, whether those possibilities are “legal” or not.

  20. >Hell even I with all my cismale privilege am revolted by it.

    Even you? Even you? Jeff “first-in-line-at-the-window-for-new-PC-grievances” Read?

    I am amused.

    Me, I consider the macroexpansion of “cismale privilege” to be “I am a heavily indoctrinated idiot. Ignore me.”

  21. >it seems to me that optimistically we are decades away from the first combat use.

    Probably not. The U.S. Navy has demonstrated the ability to shoot down a drone with a weapon that’s basically a sixpack of bog-standard welding lasers ganged together. Not only is it combat-effective, it’s combat-effective with off-the-shelf parts.

    Now think: if that’s what the public demos are doing, what about the weapons they’re developing in secret….

  22. I don’t know what is being developed in secret, but here is some of what is being readied for deployment right now:

    http://www.newsmaxworld.com/MiddleEast/israel-laser-missile-defense/2014/02/13/id/552744/

    This is a link to an article from February 2014 about the Iron Beam laser defense system, claimed to be scheduled for deployment by the IDF in 2015. Basically, Iron Beam is a laser supplement to the existing missile-based Iron Dome system currently in use and intended for slower (read: drone/RPV) targets than missiles/mortars/artillery shells.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_%28missile%29

    This is the wikipedia page about the Spike guided missile system used by the IDF as mobile counter-battery fire for missile and artillery threats. What makes this particularly unique is that tactical control of these assets can be delegated down to the unit commander level. A platoon leader having his/her (it is the IDF after all :)) own guided missile/counter-battery capability has to be something of a tactical game changer.

    https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/bullet/#.U9HNlPmE0Wc

    This is a 2012 news release from Sandia labs about the “self-guided bullet” the US has developed. No public reports of it being deployed yet AFAIK.

    So, it doesn’t seem all that speculative to suppose a networked system of defense (and who here doesn’t know what the best defense is?) that uses radar and optical tracking/detection to counter drones/RPVs with LoS lasers, self-guided bullets fired by dispersed riflemen from Barrett .50 caliber rifles (or even one of these) to defeat mortar, artillery and missile attacks along with counter-battery attacks of Spike guided missiles in support of Iron Dome-type missile defense systems.

    I’m confident Eric did stretch the imaginative envelope, so I’m looking forward to reading his essay.

  23. “Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower”

    This was part of the backstory of an obscure game from a few years ago called DropTeam, sadly it died of closed-sourceitis.

    During the times of the Rim Conflict, when weapons of incredible technology dominated the battlefield, military aircraft quickly proved worthless in combat. Armed with particle beam weapons and advanced AI-controlled guidance systems, anything that could be seen could be instantly killed. The only way to survive in combat was to stay close to the ground, using terrain as cover and letting the ground itself provide background clutter that prevented the kind of instantaneous automated death that was consistently suffered by aircraft.

    http://www.battlefront.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=97&Itemid=143

  24. “Athene has a long-running issue with Tom Kratman (and he with her in turn: the mention of unit THN is his binary-4 salute to her previous nickname Thanatos); one suspects her review is somewhat less than objective.”

    THN also works for Athene, Joel. Though I still think Thanatos’ full name, T. Hana Tospuss y Cabeza de Tarra* Farsante is more amusing. But, then again, he’s been diligently acting as an advertising agent for me for some years and is deserving of the recognition.

    (Tarra isn’t actually correct Spanish but sort of works under the circumstances.)

  25. “It also has funky legal issues, since, although you can rip an enemy’s body to pieces with a GPMG, it apparently isn’t ok to damage their retina with a laser.”

    Jenn: There’s a treaty with a protocol prohibiting it. You can find it if you’re curious enough. Couple of oddities, though. One is that it prohibits permanent blinding, which doesn’t cover temporary blinding, and probably doesn’t cover permanent blinding that ends in death. The other is that we (the Army) had a project going in the 80s to use lasers to blind ATGM gunners. It was an interesting idea that, when my Infantry Advanced Course class was briefed on it, had most of a fairly ruthless and tough group of men looking decidedly queasy. The Protocol on Blinding Weapons actually would not have banned that project, but it died – I firmly believe – due to it’s very high queasiness inducing quotient.

  26. >The Protocol on Blinding Weapons actually would not have banned that project, but it died – I firmly believe – due to it’s very high queasiness inducing quotient.

    Welcome to the blog.

    Your report is interesting to me. Is blinding unique? Can you think of other weapons or military technologies which U.S. troops have rejected out of visceral revulsion?

    I’m asking because I’m always curious about the scope and details of what one might call “pre-moral sentiments” – the instinctive ground on which we erect and rationalize moral judgments. It is well known among people who study this sort of thing that, for example, humans have a rather powerful pre-moral aversion to incest. And a universal pre-moral aversion to eating their own offspring even during the most extreme famine conditions. It is fairly obvious why both of these instincts would evolve.

    But your report suggests that hardened soldiers have a pre-moral aversion to blinding weapons, which is interesting because I don’t see an obvious evolutionary story to explain it. So the next question is whether this is culture-bound or a universal. Have you observed the same reluctance in military men of other nations? In Pushtun tribesmen? In Kurdish peshmergas?

  27. Hi, Tom! Built any submarines with windows lately?

    As for “but it died – I firmly believe – due to it’s very high queasiness inducing quotient.”…we do well to remember that soldiers are men, not supermen. There are limits beyond which they will not go. Those limits are beyond the average person’s, to be sure, but they’re there just the same, and they must be respected.

  28. Rejected technologies? Chemical, biological, and (to a lesser degree) radiation weapons.

    Beam weapons can be countered with reflective or ablative layers. And the projectors take a lot of power, and are physically vulnerable. I’m still in favor of the “Rods From God” dropping down out of orbit…

  29. Thanks.

    Oddly enough, no, I cannot think of any other weapon or technique that ever induced that reaction. We took nukes and gas with good grace (maybe in part because they’re less effective than popular myth would have them), and always figured that human-caused bio was the least of our problems, since it would tend to spread to the enemy, too, making his use of it unlikely. (Bio is much more of an economic than a tactical weapon, anyway, so…meh.) Few of us were bothered all that much by the prospect of torture, used competently and for a good reason. And had the lasers simply blown the gunners head apart, I don’t think anyone would have been bothered in the slightest. It was leaving him alive, with exploded eyeballs (that was the expected result as the blood and water flash boiled to steam), that bothered us.

    I’ve never had occasion to observe 3rd worlder reactions to blinding lasers. Although the project is open source now, at the time it was secret, hence our foreign classmates were excluded.

  30. Subs with windows? I don’t think I’ve ever built a sub with windows, even literarily. They do exist, though, see ussubmarines.com.

  31. Rejected tech…no, we (military officer types) didn’t reject nukes, bugs, and gas. We were willing to see them restricted, of course, because they don’t really convey an advantage commensurate with the damned inconvenience, but I’ve never seen that emotional reaction to them.

  32. @Will Brown
    > I don’t know what is being developed in secret, but here is some of what is being readied for deployment right now:

    Press releases and single successes notwithstanding, I remain skeptical about directed energy weapons. The US Miliitary has been trying to develop these for a LONG time, and have had significant budget for it since Reagan’s “Star Wars”. But still nada of practical use. Like I say, perhaps I am being overly pessimistic, There is a big difference between a rifle, hand constructed, that works some of the time in ideal conditions, and an AK-47 that works after you pick it out of a pool of mud.

    Laser weapons to me have all the technology hallmarks of strong AI and fusion power generation. Great science ideas that are utterly overwhelmed by the realities engineering.

    But I could be entirely wrong. In a sense the drone scenarios are a little scary given how easily that technology can be developed by the adversaries of freedom. To me the Gerald Ford aircraft construction program looks a lot like the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought program from the early 1900s.

    Oh and as for space weapons, that is something we as a human race really need to do everything we can to keep at bay. If there are offensive weapons in space then there will soon enough be weapons deployed against them. The ensuing destruction could leave us trapped on this planet until we consume ourselves with other wars. Our grandchildren will not thank us for that. There is plenty of destruction possible much nearer the planet surface.

  33. @TRX:
    Biological weapons are incredibly dangerous in an interconnected world – you’re just as likely to have your people impacted by them as the enemy. Also, there are likely to be a huge number of civilian casualties.
    Most militaries have their personnel equipped with gas masks. Forcing them to operate with the gear on reduces their effectiveness, but doesn’t defeat them. Attacking at that point requires your own use of protective gear, reducing the effectiveness of your own forces. And there is a huge potential for civilian casualties.
    Radiation weapons have generally been rejected for political reasons, also for the possibility of injuring civilians.
    Kinetic Impactors (telephone poles from space) are expensive as hell. It’s basically all of the cost of an ICBM without most of the benefits. Once you start re-entry, it gets to be really difficult to change the impact location substantially. This might be effective on minimally-fortified bunkers or other infrastructure, but not on much else.

  34. @esr
    “But your report suggests that hardened soldiers have a pre-moral aversion to blinding weapons, which is interesting because I don’t see an obvious evolutionary story to explain it.”

    There unlikely is. Blinding has been used in wars. I was told the Moor’s head in the flag of Corsica had the bandage over the eyes originally. The story was that the Aragonese blinded all the Saracen prisoners of war. Obviously, the life-expectancy of medieval blind PoWs will be short.

    In the case of US soldiers, there could be different causes.

    One would be that they somehow calculate that whatever weapon they use, will be used against them. The image of getting back home blinded might be worse than what they already expect (because it is new?). There could also be empathy with the enemies’ soldiers?

  35. “As you all know the US Navy isn’t just big, it is insanely huge, so large it could probably take down all the other navies in the world combined. If I remember rightly the US has twice as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined.”

    It’s not insanely big when you realize the objective is not to just take down other navies but to project US military power anywhere in the world. For that you come against land based assets.

    The whole drone thing ignores logistics and dwell time. I can park an aircraft carrier off your coast for months and my response time is short to any aggression on your part. To maintain that level of presence and response capability via drones and tankers would be exhaustively expensive.

    And the cost of high performance combat drones will not be cheap. The X-47-B’s program cost was $813M for 2 prototypes. UCLASS will be a $3.7B program to start and field only 6-24 aircraft that aren’t as mission capable as a F-18 (~$60M each) and still need a carrier to launch from.

    And it is questionable how effective they will be in a GPS and data link denied environment.

  36. >And the cost of high performance combat drones will not be cheap.

    This is why drones will cease being fielded in a world of dollar-per-shot anti-air lasers. The Navy’s LaWS is already down to that level after fixed costs.

    >And it is questionable how effective they will be in a GPS and data link denied environment.

    GPS denial is easy. Data link denial is quite difficult – not practical when you have wideband frequency hopping. Cheap directed-energy weapons will make the air a no-go environment for expensive military vehicles well before either of these things changes.

  37. Regarding the death of airpower because of lasers the answer is maybe and not soon. LaWS is cool but requires good dwell time and sufficient targeting. Watch the video. The target drone was flying level, was slow and performed no evasive maneuvers. I wouldn’t want to face it in a small boat but unless you blind the pilot probably it’s not able to do much against a high performance fighter without a lot more power.

    If the air waveguide concept pans out we’ll see better battlefield performance against harder targets.

    Amusingly, the nuclear carrier is one of the best platforms for air defense lasers.

    Finally, a laser is a LOS weapon. Airpower, in it’s many forms, is not. A cold war era Tu22m3 @ 200 nmi firing a mach 3 Brahmos is completely immune to your laser. You don’t have LOS on the launch platform.

    The mach 3 brahmos flying a 15m terminal attack profile gives you a very short intercept time against a hard target. One that can be made harder with ablative armor and maneuvering to reduce dwell.

    LOS against a target at 15m elevation when your laser is at 50m elevation is around 40km.

    Defensively this is in comparison to say putting a BARCAP at 200nm along the threat axis equipped with a 80nm AIM-120D. You are capable of performing an intercept on the Backfire before he launches.

    Or a S-300 with a 200km range as long as a radar (not necessarily colocated) can see you.

    Offensively, the bramos has a 300kg conventional or nuclear warhead.

    Certainly lasers will change the battlefield. So will rail guns. Make airpower extinct? Meh. Even battleships (aka surface combatants) are not extinct with the rise of airpower.

  38. “Data link denial is quite difficult – not practical when you have wideband frequency hopping.”

    Ah…if you say so. I can deny your global data link my taking out your comsat.

    Good luck re-establishing your global data link via LOS comms.

    (This in the context of running global power projection via drones flown out of Creech AFB instead of aircraft carriers).

  39. “This is why drones will cease being fielded in a world of dollar-per-shot anti-air lasers.”

    LOL…if you believe defense contractor propaganda anyway. 100 kw per shot (probably less) for LaWS is maybe a buck if I only take into account fuel costs and not the additional power generation capability I need to employ such weapons in something other than a one-off demonstrations.

    You need to get to around a megawatt power levels to have effective missile and aircraft killers.

  40. ” To me the Gerald Ford aircraft construction program looks a lot like the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought program from the early 1900s.”

    If by that you mean wasted money, one notes that, though it can’t be said that the Brits won Jutland, it can be said that they were ready to sail and fight again within a couple of days, while the Hun fleet was not ready for months. Hence the blockade held, Germany starved, England did not starve, and we know who won the war. If you mean that you expect things like Dreadnoughts, as a phenom, to last forever…nothing lasts forever.

  41. Ah…if you say so. I can deny your global data link my taking out your comsat.

    Eric may be still living in the dream world where point-to-point spread-spectrum mesh networks can be erected quickly and cheaply, cover long distances, and support large numbers of clients and high bandwidth without degrading significantly.

  42. >not able to do much against a high performance fighter without a lot more power.

    A lot more power is what’s coming. The LaWS is a kluge, six industrial lasers strapped together. In the not very distant future we are likely to get much longer ranges from, for example, scaled-up free-electron lasers.

    >Amusingly, the nuclear carrier is one of the best platforms for air defense lasers

    That’s plausible. But what happens to naval warfare when “carriers” are better at interdicting enemy air than they are at launching survivable offensive craft? I don’t think they’ll stay in commission very long.

    >Finally, a laser is a LOS weapon. Airpower, in it’s many forms, is not.

    But any standoff weapon the plane launches does have to get to within LOS of its target before it can do damage. What good will your Tu22 do when its Brahmoses are getting torched by laser antiair?

    >The mach 3 brahmos flying a 15m terminal attack profile gives you a very short intercept time against a hard target.

    So, you salt your defense zone with inexpensive laser antiair batteries (cheaper than SAMs, much cheaper than the Brahmos, much much cheaper than the Tu22) and gang-bang the sucker. Economics says the defender wins this game proportionately to the cost disparity between the weapons.

    You’re getting hung up on the volatile details of current weapons systems and losing the larger picture, which is that give DEWs as a premise the basic physics of the situation favors the defender.

  43. “Blinding has been used in wars. ”

    What one does to POWs as a reprisal, or simple vengeace, when there’s so much hate that no recognition of common humanity is possible, doesn’t really apply here. We were pros and had no particular reason to hate the enemy. We could see ourselves in them, as a matter of fact, easily enough. (Amusing anecdote: My best friend in the Army was our Anti-Tank company commander while I was in command of a rifle company and then an HHC. He was Czech descent. His cousin, in the Czech Army, commanded a tank company at the same time.) Even across cultures, to a degree, we were largely the sort who could watch the Wisconsin pounding the crap out of Iraqi positions north of Khafji and think, “Poor bastards. I feel for them.”

    I think we just didn’t want to feel personal responsibility for inflicting that much lasting suffering on men that…well…go read Hardy’s The Man He Killed.

  44. >Ah…if you say so. I can deny your global data link my taking out your comsat.

    Um. You’re making an argument against the continued viability of airpower. If lots of potential combatants can do this, the drone-dominated portion of the airpower era ends sooner rather than later.

  45. “Economics says the defender wins this game proportionately to the cost disparity between the weapons.”

    Not necessarily, because the big expense is in the ships. If it costs 1000 times, 10000 times, maybe even a millions times, what the defense costs to overwhelm the defense, to swamp it, to get at the ships, it’s well worth it.

  46. >Not necessarily, because the big expense is in the ships.

    Yeah, this is just my argument applied to the whole platform cost. It’s worth spending 10K times the cost of an antiair laser to kill a capital ship. It isn’t worth spending even 10 times the cost of the whole ship to kill the ship. Contrariwise, capital ships are so hair-raisingly expensive that right now flooding their defenses with cheap drones and not so cheap capital missiles looks like a good idea.

    I think that turns around into an argument for basing your naval doctrine on less expensive ships.

    This is why flattops worry me. Actually they worry me a lot. They seem to me to be designed as a reward system in a culture where commanding the biggest ship is swinging the biggest dick, rather than as a rational adaptation to present cost and threat structures.

    We’ve already had a Red Chinese attack sub pop up and do “SURPRISE! I COULD HAVE RUINED YOUR WHOLE DAY!” in the middle of a carrier battle group. What happens when opponents can afford to throw a cloud of 500 cheap drones at a carrier for about the cost of the carrier’s fuel load?

    Whether that will happen before we can put swarm-killing laser anti-air on carriers is an interesting question – but by the time we can do that the planes the carrier launches won’t be cost-effective for that exact reason.

  47. @ Jessica Boxer

    You do realize that the laser-based application of SDI was intended to be from an on-orbit satellite. The targeted ICBM(s) would be in their un-powered flight stage outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Having been employed in the .mil aerospace industry during the early SDI development period myself (though not in these programs directly), I remember much of the public discussion, within the trade as it were, from the time. Lasers of sufficient power when operated in a near-vacuum were developed, but the orbital delivery and staging platforms were not. Finally, failure of a technology due to political considerations doesn’t strike me as a particularly cogent argument against the technology itself.

    As to the viability of aircraft carriers, my own experience aboard one is from the 1970’s, but aircraft carrier battle group doctrine hasn’t substantially change from then to now and, I think it worth noting, hasn’t substantially failed over that same time period either. I know, the absence of evidence isn’t really evidence, but still …

    From my personal experience, we always knew the ship was vulnerable to submarine attack (actually, the list of potential vulnerabilities was unsettelingly long even then). If you elect to serve in a navy, you quickly learn that your ultimate responsibility is to “fight the ship”, not fight yourself. IOW we all understood we were there to make the ship (and its air wing) operate during battle – and accepted the lesson of the USS Indianapolis (one of four ships so-christened) as just another aspect of what we chose to do.

    On a general note, combat only rarely takes place mano-a-mano; more commonly battles are fought by (variably well) coordinated groups, using mutually supporting weapons and tactics in support of a (hopefully) defined strategy. Due to the nature of the environment they operate in navies probably began development of the concept of “combined arms” operations earlier than land-based armies (depending on how stringent you want to be with your definitions – Col. Kratman almost certainly has better knowledge of this than does former E-4/amateur historian I), but I see no reason to suppose (or doubt) that the tools developed in the future for warfare will not continue to develop that well-tested operational formula.

  48. I can’t recall whether it was Lind or Luttwak – maybe both – who wrote about how the CVN had already ceased to be about projecting power and become almost entirely about defending itself. It wasn’t quite the right way to look at it, for a couple-three-four reasons. One is that what aircraft the CV uses to defend itself can mostly be repurposed on very little notice – indeed, it isn’t even repurposing, since the defense mission, itself is a repurposing – to attack. The price of that is risk, which sometimes will work out badly and other times you won’t even notice. But things can be risked. That’s war. Another part of it is that one CV may need mostly to defend itself, but if there are four, one can defend and three can handle most air forces. A third is that there is so much redundant carrying capacity in a CV that, if it’s needed for defense, the CV can mount it…and its cousin…and its mother in law…

    I’m sure that list isn’t exhaustive.

    I suspect, but do not know for sure, that the problem with the PLAN sub was that ours were nukes. I’ve got an on line chum, retired German navy (and he’ll be contributing to RTRH, too) who was surface warfare for his career. He condemns a lot about the USN, but he condemns it as a worried friend of the US. One of the things he condemns is that, whatever the strategic and operational advantages (half logistic) of nuke subs, they’re simply too noisy, probably always will be too noisy, and AIP and DE boats have simply gotten ahead of them and of our sensing arrays. He claims, with credible arguments to support it, that we can pretty much forget about passive anymore, we need to ping regularly and often, maybe even continuously, IIRC.

    As for going cheaper and smaller, I don’t know that that works for much except mitigating – maybe better said permitting – risk. Small carrier means not just a smaller wing, but probably a less capable set of aircraft.

  49. @ ESR

    This is why flattops worry me. Actually they worry me a lot. They seem to me to be designed as a reward system in a culture where commanding the biggest ship is swinging the biggest dick,

    Can you spell “Admiral”? :)

    What happens when opponents can afford to throw a cloud of 500 cheap drones at a carrier for about the cost of the carrier’s fuel load?

    Whether that will happen before we can put swarm-killing laser anti-air on carriers is an interesting question – but by the time we can do that the planes the carrier launches won’t be cost-effective for that exact reason.

    I suggest some variation on the effects of EMP on electronics will be developed as a counter-measure, since modern warships and naval combat aircraft are already resistant to those effects. It won’t matter how the drone swarm is piloted if the flight controls and comms are all electrically fried. I suspect a sufficiently powerful (and limited in area of effect) nuke could be stuffed into a 5″ shell casing that, when detonated at 2+ miles altitude, would reduce the immediate close-in threat level considerably. When launched from aircraft up-to 100 miles out from the carrier, the threat becomes much more manageable (from the carrier battle group commander’s perspective, at least :)).

  50. “I suggest some variation on the effects of EMP on electronics will be developed as a counter-measure, since modern warships and naval combat aircraft are already resistant to those effects. ”

    We don’t need nukes for EMP. ISTR that an EA-6 or, say, maybe four of them, flying off the east coast, can do a pretty damned good job of it on its (their) own.

    There are other ways to create it, too.

  51. >Data link denial is quite difficult – not practical when you have wideband frequency hopping.

    Data link denial is actually quite easy, otherwise Intelsat, SES, and Eutelsat wouldn’t have departments dedicated to geolocating interference. Hell, the North Koreans shut down a satellite for Dear Leader’s birthday using jammers to overwhelm the data links. Even with frequency hopping, enough power over a wide enough stretch of bandwidth will knock it out. And frequency hopping isn’t standard for satcom.

  52. >One is that what aircraft the CV uses to defend itself can mostly be repurposed on very little notice

    Yup, I get that part.

    >But things can be risked. That’s war.

    Agreed. My worry is that the first time a CVN gets sucker-punched, force preservation will immediately become such a priority that the remaining CBGs won’t be allowed forward enough for offensive use.

    In particular, there are some hints that PLAN is building its warfighting plans around making the East China and South China Seas look like too risky an environment for our CBGs – I think that sub popup has to be looked at as a gesture intended to make us more cautious that way.

  53. We don’t need nukes for EMP. ISTR that an EA-6 or, say, maybe four of them, flying off the east coast, can do a pretty damned good job of it on its (their) own.

    Agreed, but the other ships in the battle group boast 5″ guns, so including them in the defense seemed cogent to the general discussion.

  54. > It won’t matter how the drone swarm is piloted if the flight controls and comms are all electrically fried.

    If warplanes can be EMP-hardened, so can drones. The side with the drones keeps the cost advantage.

  55. @esr
    > This is why flattops worry me. Actually they worry me a lot. They seem to me to be designed as a reward system in a culture where commanding the biggest ship is swinging the biggest dick, rather than as a rational adaptation to present cost and threat structures.

    Yes, it is why I am rather confused by the Chinese approach here. Of all people a drone based strategy is perfect for them. Why they want to build big mega ships I think is more about asserting their importance in the world than any really defensive need. (Same with India.)

    Really, I big political pissing match with other people’s money.

    > We’ve already had a Red Chinese attack sub pop up and do “SURPRISE! I COULD HAVE RUINED YOUR WHOLE DAY!”

    And this incident confuses me also for several reasons.

    1. Why is the ocean around a carrier group not full of active sonar to detect these threats? After all, it isn’t like a carrier battle group can stay silent against passive sonar. So silent running is not advantageous to them.

    Fill the ocean with predictable sound pings and even the quietest submarine lights up like a Christmas tree.

    My suspicion is that the ocean isn’t full of this noise because it might disturb the whales, and jellyfish and mermaids rather than for any technical reason. And in fairness to the Kitty Hawk, it wasn’t exactly on a war footing (though it was on a Naval exercise.)

    2. Why did the Chinese actually show themselves? Surely it is enough for the military to know that they can do it, and knowing that they can, while the enemy not knowing that they can offers a significant strategic advantage.

    Again, I think it is mostly a political pissing match rather than a military decision.

  56. This is why flattops worry me. Actually they worry me a lot. They seem to me to be designed as a reward system in a culture where commanding the biggest ship is swinging the biggest dick, rather than as a rational adaptation to present cost and threat structures.

    Equipping the U.S. military in this day and age is anything but a rational adaptation to present cost and threat structures. Don’t believe me? The words “Littoral Combat Ship” should set you straight. Or how about “F-35 Lightning II”?

    There’s another hook in this too: big ships mean big money to defense contractors. Like anything in Murkan politics, our arsenal is at least as much about lining the pockets of the right people/companies as it is about any practical purpose.

  57. >Equipping the U.S. military in this day and age is anything but a rational adaptation to present cost and threat structures. Don’t believe me? The words “Littoral Combat Ship” should set you straight. Or how about “F-35 Lightning II”?

    Not only do I believe you, this may be the single paragraph you’ve ever written with which I most completely agree.

    In general, I think the degree of mismatch to actual threat model tends to rise with the dollar cost of the weapons system. Aircraft carriers are the worst case. Talk about preparing to fight the last war…

  58. @Jeff Read
    > Or how about “F-35 Lightning II”?

    I read an article about the F-35 somewhere recently, and they explained how the Lockheed hired a special consulting firm to ensure that there was one contractor supplying the F36 in nearly every congressional district in the country. I believe currently they are supplied out of 45 different states and over 80% of congressional districts. (Also nine other countries to ensure overseas orders.)

    Which puts a whole new meaning on the term “political economy.”

    Don’t have a link to the original, but this has lots of info.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-22/flawed-f-35-fighter-too-big-to-kill-as-lockheed-hooks-45-states.html

    Oh and Jeff, with respect to your usual Murikaphobia, this is far from unique to “merikan” politics. You should read Thatcher’s autobiography about the Westland affiar, or the politics around the JAS 39 Gripen, or come to that, on a non military basis, the European union and their extremely dubious competitive practices with respect to Airbus to name a few of these sordid affairs.

  59. “Yup, I get that part.”

    You might be shocked at how many influential people don’t.

    “I think that sub popup has to be looked at as a gesture intended to make us more cautious that way.”

    Yes…and…there is a fairly consistent pattern to Chinese military forays, and has been since at least November, 1950. The way to look at them, usually, is as very intense diplomatic notes. “We are serious as hell and here’s your proof. Now think about just how far you’re willing to go to test us; we’ve just shown you we’re willing to go quite a distance ourselves.”

  60. there is a fairly consistent pattern to Chinese military forays, and has been since at least November, 1950. The way to look at them, usually, is as very intense diplomatic notes.

    Something something barrel of a gun?

  61. “Every communist must grasp this truth; political power flows from the…”?

    I don’t think that’s it, exactly, though there may be a link there somewhere, lost on round eyed devils like me.

    I suspect it is something very Chinese and very Confucian, a preference for solving things without fighting or with as little fighting as possible, coupled with being a gesture of sincerity and intensity of feelings on the matter in question.

    Their intervention in Korea may show it in its purest form, a note of protest or concern delivered through intermediaries, a clandestine movement of troops, a sudden flurry of blows that send the offending party reeling (that would be us reeling), and then backing off to let us think about it and realize what had happened and what it meant.

    We’re not especially good (read really frakking awful) at reading the PRC, so we never took them up on their “invitation to negotiate,” if it was an invitation. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if we’d suggested an immediate freeze in place of all forces, once we had both successfully disengaged. They’d probably have demanded more, at least enough to leave them a rump North Korea and a 100 or so mile buffer zone, but it may have been something on which we could have reached agreement, after a couple more lesser bloodlettings.

    I _think_ we’ve seen that (really rough) general pattern several more times since Korea, versus India, along the Amur River in 1969, and versus Vietnam. Exactly the same? No. But the demonstration, the not following up initial advantage, the broad restraint, and the willingness to negotiate were all there.

  62. >A lot more power is what’s coming.

    A lot more power isn’t going to be operational any time soon. The Navy’s free electron laser generated 14 kW out the business end. The 100 kW prototype doesn’t exist yet.

    Ask Tom how long it takes for any weapon system to work through the acquisition community…much less the Navy acquisition community. This is still in the ONR science project phase.

    >But any standoff weapon the plane launches does have to get to within LOS of its target before it can do damage. What good will your Tu22 do when its Brahmoses are getting torched by laser anti air?

    You are assuming a lot. Like you can even target incoming missiles and aircraft. If it were that easy then advent of SAMs would have dictated the end of air power.

    In any case, I can swamp any air defense with sufficient volume. Yes even one with laser air defense.

    The mulit-regiment backfire raid is one of those jeune ecole style arguments against the survivability of the CVBG. One put forth by the Soviets any everybody since trying to mess with navy appropriations.

    Arguably the modern CVBG is less able to handle a multi-regiment backfire raid than the 90s counterpart. If anyone builds such a force we can revisit the issue.

    >So, you salt your defense zone with inexpensive laser antiair batteries (cheaper than SAMs, much cheaper than the Brahmos, much much cheaper than the Tu22) and gang-bang the sucker. Economics says the defender wins this game proportionately to the cost disparity between the weapons.

    How do you know a defense contractor is lying? His lips are moving. How do you know he’s REALLY lying? When he claims his new weapon system will be cheaper to own than his older weapon system.

    Laser anti-air batteries will not be cheaper than any other combat system to deploy. Nor will it cost a dollar a shot as these guys claim. If I gave you a fully operational LaWS to hunt squirrels with tell me that each 100 kW (out the business end) shot will cost you less than a dollar on your electric bill. Then try to convince me that it costs less for you to buy power from your local utility than it cost the Navy to generate that same amount of energy.

    >You’re getting hung up on the volatile details of current weapons systems and losing the larger picture, which is that give DEWs as a premise the basic physics of the situation favors the defender.

    This argument is simply “you’re getting hung up on reality and losing the idealized picture as presented by a defense contractor”.

    And the basic physics is that in atmosphere it’s easier for me to get destructive power on target using conventional means rather than a DEW. DEWs is a lot like electric cars.

    Personally I think railguns will get more destructive power on target than a DEW will in atmosphere. And it’s harder to find countermeasures to a kinetic kill weapon than a DEW.

  63. I haven’t read the novella, but the description calls to mind the tachikoma episodes of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex. In particular, the penultimate episode, in which the surviving tachikomas leave their “civilian” positions to rescue Batou one last time. Since the author has joined the conversation, can he confirm or deny any influence from that source?

    An interesting aspect of the tachikomas is that they are a metaphor within GitS:SAC for most of the main (cybernetic) characters: both machine and sophont, neither fish nor fowl. (Soldiers in peacetime?) When Kusanagi decides to terminate the tachikomas, supposedly for an excess of personality, it is almost a sort of symbolized suicide.

  64. >I suspect, but do not know for sure, that the problem with the PLAN sub was that ours were nukes. I’ve got an on line chum, retired German navy (and he’ll be contributing to RTRH, too) who was surface warfare for his career. He condemns a lot about the USN, but he condemns it as a worried friend of the US. One of the things he condemns is that, whatever the strategic and operational advantages (half logistic) of nuke subs, they’re simply too noisy, probably always will be too noisy, and AIP and DE boats have simply gotten ahead of them and of our sensing arrays. He claims, with credible arguments to support it, that we can pretty much forget about passive anymore, we need to ping regularly and often, maybe even continuously, IIRC.

    Lol…the strategic and operational advantages of nuke subs is that we have a blue ocean subsurface force and AIP boat equipped nations don’t. A U212A can stay down for a few weeks but that’s not a long patrol and that’s only at 4 knots.

    Sneaking up on a CVBG in peacetime exercises is completely different than trying to sneak up on one in wartime.

    That said, US ASW is a bit rusty and we could use a few AIP/DE boats but what the hell that’s what partner navies are for. The Germans and Japanese have DE and AIP subs.

    And as a skimmer…just how often was he able to successfully prosecute a USN nuke boat? And nuke has the ability to hold contact with a fast moving SAG or CVBG. A 212 doesn’t. There is an assumption on the part of DE/AIP proponents that they always have a terrain advantage…”well if I can put my DE/AIP subs at choke points or in shallow water they outperform nukes”.

  65. >Agreed. My worry is that the first time a CVN gets sucker-punched, force preservation will immediately become such a priority that the remaining CBGs won’t be allowed forward enough for offensive use.

    Depends on the will of the nation and civ leadership. The Navy will fight if allowed to.

    Sea denial is always easier than Sea dominance. Especially in your own back yard.

    >In particular, there are some hints that PLAN is building its warfighting plans around making the East China and South China Seas look like too risky an environment for our CBGs – I think that sub popup has to be looked at as a gesture intended to make us more cautious that way.

    This is why they are called the bad guys. They aren’t going to just roll over for us.

    Eh, the parking ramps at Kadena are softer targets than a CVBG. Hitting Kadena with conventional IRBMs is not going to be that much more provocative than killing a CVBG.

  66. You know, DEWs don’t strike me as that interesting a.topic It’s effectively a better gun. Yah, that’s nice but it’s not the game changer that ESR thinks. Point defense gets a lot tougher but you can adapt around it.

    A somewhat (only somewhat because it’s been done a lot already) more interesting discussion is whether a military service designed around it’s troops never seeing the elephant (aka drone warfare), much less fucking it, is really a military service anymore.

    PTSD aside is a joystick jock out of creech really a warrior in the same way as a fighter jock that actually goes in harms way and does it really matter if he isn’t?

    If everybody in the Air Force ends up being either a staff puke or a joystick jock and there are no more pointy spear types will it still be effective as a combat arm in the long run?

  67. >Yah, that’s nice but it’s not the game changer that ESR thinks

    There’s a rule of thumb among economists that an order of magnitude change in relative costs reliably triggers changes that are not just quantitative but qualitative game changers – old forms of organization collapse, new ones arise.

    The cost disparities and shifts implied by laser point defense are much, much larger than one order of magnitude.

  68. “Lol…the strategic and operational advantages of nuke subs is that we have a blue ocean subsurface force and AIP boat equipped nations don’t. A U212A can stay down for a few weeks but that’s not a long patrol and that’s only at 4 knots.”

    That may matter less than you think. The mantra of “blue ocean subsurface force” is really persuasive, of course, except when it isn’t. We aren’t worried, especially, about U212s and their cousins torpedoing tankers off Atlantic City or San Diego. We probably aren’t overly worried about defending the Azores. We tend to take the war to the enemy. But if we’re going to take the war to the enemy, and he can hear us, but we cannot hear him, and we must go within the practical operational range of a 212 or similar to attack him, we very well may lose.

    “Sneaking up on a CVBG in peacetime exercises is completely different than trying to sneak up on one in wartime.”

    I am not convinced of this, given our post Dec 7, 1941 institutional naval paranoia, finely honed through 44 odd years of cold war. If you mean that it’s easier to get through when someone isn’t trying actively to kill you, that explains one thing. I don’t know that it explains our surprise.

  69. “Ask Tom how long it takes for any weapon system to work through the acquisition community…much less the Navy acquisition community. This is still in the ONR science project phase.”

    IF it gets through. I highly recommend for this Luttwak’s The Pentagon and the Art of War, with a side order of Ben Rich’s Skunk Works. One of the little subthreads – why, one might call it the Obras Zorilleras subthread – in the ADCP series concerns illustrating the difference in speed and effectiveness/cost effectiveness between our approach and a less bureaucratic (as in not at all bureaucratic) approach.

  70. “Now, I suppose, is the time to reveal that I have written an essay titled ‘Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower’ and had it accepted for an upcoming anthology called Ride the Red Horse edited by the selfsame Tom Kratman who wrote Big Boys Don’t Cry. You are not, as it turns out, thinking radically enough.”

    Not a new idea, though I’m sure you’ve worked it out in more detail. Ben Bova says as much in a throwaway line at the end of his novella _Out of the Sun_. And I doubt he was the first.

  71. esr:
    “Agreed. My worry is that the first time a CVN gets sucker-punched, force preservation will immediately become such a priority that the remaining CBGs won’t be allowed forward enough for offensive use.”

    I’m not going to argue against your core idea that the next generation of weaponry is going to make the old one — including CVN’s — obsolete. But your comment above seems to express a low opinion of the USN. We lost one heck of a lot of flattops in WWII (Bismarck Sea, Block Island, Gambier Bay, Hornet, Yorktown, Langley, Lexington, Liscombe Bay, Ommaney Bay, Princeton, Saint Lo, Wasp) but it didn’t stop us from sending them forward to fight. (I grant you than many of these were not full-sized carriers, but there are quite a few of those in that list. There was a point in the war where the Enterprise was our only effective, non-obsolete, full-sized CV.)

    And in a live shooting war with real strategic interests at stake, I don’t think it would be any different today.

  72. “That said, US ASW is a bit rusty and we could use a few AIP/DE boats but what the hell that’s what partner navies are for. The Germans and Japanese have DE and AIP subs.”

    There’s clearly some truth there. But can we count on the Japanese to assist us in the Straits of Formosa? Maybe not. Can we count on them to hold open sea lanes to Taiwan? Maybe not. Frankly, I’m not sure we can count on anybody for anything.

    “And as a skimmer…just how often was he able to successfully prosecute a USN nuke boat? And nuke has the ability to hold contact with a fast moving SAG or CVBG. A 212 doesn’t. There is an assumption on the part of DE/AIP proponents that they always have a terrain advantage…”well if I can put my DE/AIP subs at choke points or in shallow water they outperform nukes”.”

    I don’t know if he, personally, ever tried or had the opportunity to try. I suspect he’s conveying the collective opinion of the BundesMarine and the other EU navies. I personally suspect that in and off the coasts of Western Europe they beat the crap out of us, if we ever wax hostile. But there they have the bases and logistics to keep a lot of DE and AIPs at sea.

  73. @tom true that we have to go playing in Mr. Kilo’s (vice u212) back yard but if you can’t get there in time you can’t play at all.

    As a regional power your backyard is all you need to dominate.

    As a global power if we need to surge boats into the Indian Ocean or the straits of malacca or wherever being able to get there at 20 knots is a lot better than 4 knots and outta gas when I get there.

    The other question is can a u212 keep up with a CVBG? Or even fast convoy. If I need to sanitize waterspace ahead of the convoy can you sprint a u212 ahead?

    One is a sea denial platform. The other a sea dominance one.

    For the most part out guys are better trained than their guys and any hypothetical advantage a kilo has over a LA or Virginia is theoretical.

    Yah, if their batteries are new, if they have the latest sonar suites, if they have the training, if they are waiting for us.

    I dunno…a lot of the analysis strikes me as very much T90 vs Abrams. You tell me which you’d rather go to war in (no airborne biases now…) and which is
    a better fit for the USA.

    You can buy 2-3 T90s for each Abrams.

  74. “And in a live shooting war with real strategic interests at stake, I don’t think it would be any different today.”

    I dunno, Cathy. I used to think that our tolerance for casualities couldn’t be proved to be higher than 28 KIA and was certainy no higher than 241. I was pleased – yes, very damned pleased – to be proven wrong in Kuwait, Iraq, Iraq again, and Afghanistan. But we have not yet proven that our society will not lose all heart if we lost all or almost all of a single CVN crew, since that would equal Iraq II and we lost heart there. (Yes, there were other factors, too, of course.)

    There’s also the time to build factor, which doesn’t seem to get easier or quicker as the size of the ship goes up. A CV-9 class, forex, was about 27k tons, unladen. A recent CVN is four or so times bigger, which one suspects is on the order of 4 times harder to build. At least, by way of comparison, Essex took 20 months from laying of the keel to commissioning, while Nimitz was seven years between laying of the keel and commissioning.

  75. “I am not convinced of this, given our post Dec 7, 1941 institutional naval paranoia, finely honed through 44 odd years of cold war. If you mean that it’s easier to get through when someone isn’t trying actively to kill you, that explains one thing. I don’t know that it explains our surprise.”

    Well yes. But, excluding day 1 where we may or may not be caught flat footed from a surprise attack most groups will be a lot more aggressive in prosecuting unknowns and moving faster. And yes, actively trying to kill them.

    That said I’m sure it would once again take some time to figure out who the good wartime Flag officers are vs peacetime Flag officers that looked good or were just good at getting tickets punched.

  76. Nigel:

    No, I don’t know if we have a complete choice about nukes, given our situation and missions. The question is whether we can win the battle in someone else’s region that he dominates. I’m not actually saying, “This is what we should do.” I am saying, “I don’t know if anything we can do anymore will redress the differences and allow us to dominate anyone else’s territorial waters.” (Note, here, that I am not talking about dominating non-powers’ territorial waters. Mexico and Sri Lanka are our bitches at sea. ;) )

    Can we still dominate the sea lanes. I think so, for the logistic reasons you mention. But Man is a clever critter and I would not be surprised to learn that one branch of Him is working diligently on changing that. (Side note: I contemplated having a freighter “built” to cradle and support a Meg Class SSK in the ADCP-verse, and ultimately decided that it was too likely to be compromised in advance. But someone _could_ do something like that.)

  77. I’m actually more concerned about the second aspect you mention, “who are the real fighting admirals,” than about another Pearl Harbor. The latter would be close to impossible to set up, and would telegraph furra if someone tried. But if the Navy is anything like the Army in this, and I suspect it’s even worse, they’ve been promoting even worse crawling filth for longer.

  78. The army has been in real combat for the last decade. I’m feeling pretty good about the future Army given the class of Vietnam did good as senior officers. At least they have seen the elephant as junior officers and mostly (at least from the outside) didn’t step on their dicks too often.

    The guys up top now are mostly Cold War Fulda gap guys right?

    The class of Iraq and Afghanistan will do okay I think. Better than anyone they are likely to go up against anyway unless we are unlucky enough that the Chinese get a once in a generation general.

    The navy…well, there are some really smart guys with stars on their shoulders but that doesn’t mean any of these guys are going to be good fighting admirals. I think that favoring naval aviators helps. At least those guys proved capable of doing something insane (night carrier landings) on a regular basis. Having balls doesn’t mean you can fight but I’d hazard few warriors had no balls.

    /shrug.

    I’m just an analyst. Not for me to say really.

  79. Actually, not so much. The guys who have done well, who will be promoted, and who will eventually see stars in the Army are the guys who are comfortable with tight restrictions on the use of force, with power point, with low intensity, with having nearly every advantage, and with a far too legalistic approach to war. We’ve been somewhat political from the very beginning, too, of course, but I sense and get more than a few reports of some bizarre attitudes and values that have taken over.

    I think the Army’s screwed, the Navy’s even worse off, and the wife and I are contemplating moving to Panama.

  80. >We lost one heck of a lot of flattops in WWII (Bismarck Sea, Block Island, Gambier Bay, Hornet, Yorktown, Langley, Lexington, Liscombe Bay, Ommaney Bay, Princeton, Saint Lo, Wasp) but it didn’t stop us from sending them forward to fight.

    Yes. In those days, flattops cost a lot less in both absolute and proportional terms, and the press wasn’t salivating to turn every combat loss into an inevitable harbinger of defeat. And our political class included better and braver men who often had military experience themselves.

    Today, I’m sure the Navy would still want to fight after a CVN got sucker-punched. What I doubt is that our political class would let them.

  81. @tom I think we’re talking two different groups. I’m thinking O3 and below for this past decade.

    The guys that had to go outside the wire. Not the guys making briefings. My view is skewed perhaps I think from a C-IED focus. I don’t think we enjoyed every advantage and I think there are a lot of junior officers coming out of this war very much like the ones that came out of Vietnam: “When I’m in charge we’re not ever doing this dumb shit again”.

    They promoted the guy (Dave Perkins) who put together thunder run to General and gave him TRADOC. How much of the Thunder Run story was BS I dunno but the Zucchino book was a good read. You’d have more insight into that than I.

    /shrug

    The civ leadership is where we are probably more screwed.

  82. >And our political class included better and braver men who often had military experience themselves.

    >Today, I’m sure the Navy would still want to fight after a CVN got sucker-punched. What I doubt is that our political class would let them.

    Depends on what was at stake and who was doing the sucker punching.

    Taiwan? Probably not.

    Japan, Korea or RP? Probably would.

  83. That’s not really how it works. The middling senior guys are going to spend the next 20 years selecting _against_ the very types you’re talking about. Little by little the exceptions are gotten rid of. Those who can hide that they are exceptions tend to rationalize the way they’ve hidden it until they become what they despise.

    Since I’m working on an article on this very subject, let me explain how the army promotion system works for officers. No, not the details of 6+ files and such, but what happens in the course of a career. By the time you have 20 years in as an officer, you will have been ratedm intemediate rated, and senior rated by anywhere from 50 to 100 people. You can’t ever have pissed one of them off. They all had to like you.

    Now, sure, there may be someone who is just so damned capable and charming that everyone likes him (or, I suppose, her…although Duty-Honor-BJs Broadwell shows that there are some other routes open to women). However, even for that sterling character, there’s a problem. Nothing in the military, no decision, no command, no policy…nothing, is devoid of a moral component because no matter how trivial it is, it’s still life and death. Different people you work for, those raters mentioned above, have different approaches, values, senses of judgment, etc.

    Now go back to that never pissing anyone off. How do you avoid that? How when the people you work for have these often quite radically different approaches, POVs, values, etc? One could fall back on discipline and subordination, and that would be fine except for one thing, that everything is ultimately life and death, a moral matter of the highest importance, something that mere subordination ought not be able to overcome.

    The way it happens, the way you avoid pissing off all these different types of people, is to have no values or character, no sense of morals or ethics, yourself.

    *A 6+ file is, for promotion board purposes, and essentially perfect personnel file / performance record, from someone who has also impressed some or a lot of the “right” people.

  84. Probably not. The U.S. Navy has demonstrated the ability to shoot down a drone with a weapon that’s basically a sixpack of bog-standard welding lasers ganged together. Not only is it combat-effective, it’s combat-effective with off-the-shelf parts.

    Now think: if that’s what the public demos are doing, what about the weapons they’re developing in secret….

    Israel will build something like this. The U.S. will develop a system that’s seven to ten lasers, with every single off-the-shelf part replaced with a technically superior, and much more expensive, party, with not enough engineering done to make sure that all the new, better parts work together as well as the older parts did.

  85. @Tom
    > The way it happens, the way you avoid pissing off all these different types of people, is to have no values or character, no sense of morals or ethics, yourself.

    Sounds a lot like how one gets elected to a high political office…

  86. Tom – Panama might be an easy choice because of your wife’s origin, but if the SHTF in a big way, Panama is not somewhere I’d want to be. If someone just wants to destroy the canal, it’s probably safe being at one end of the country or another, but if capturing the Canal is the objective, the enemy might as well grab the whole country, which would be pretty unpleasant for the residents. Costa Rica or Colombia seem more secure choices.

  87. Truly curious, no sarcasm not a putdown. Has our host or anybody here in any art, free play Kata or any organized way studied gouging the opponent’s eye(s) out? Kill Bill is the only instance that comes to mind and that was mostly a comic book. That may say something about attitudes either way.

    On AIP/DE I am reminded that hornets are not killed one at a time. Shades of The Wabbler – Murray Leinster – a very very smart mine as an area denial weapon. It’s a big sea. The question ” can a u212 keep up with a CVBG” is rhetorical and can be answered by a looking at hull speeds but I’m not sure what the answer implies. A rooster tail as high as the deck and a wake to the horizon has its own implications. The Forrestal and the Enterprise fire fighting people showed all the fighting spirit anybody could ask – I’d expect as good today.

    On the F35 Lightning II likely we should have continued the Boeing X32 – savings from the TFX were pretty illusory – alternatives are good.

    Sometimes we get lucky – Ted Roosevelt was cashiered by Patton but acted in the traditions of the M.I. first man on the ground was a general FWIW. If indeed [you're] feeling pretty good about the future Army given the class of Vietnam did good as senior officers” I suggest a review of King’s: The Death of the Army;: A pre-mortem and as revised by others every decade or so.

    A rational army would run away and we are breeding odd forms of rationality – see Athene of sufficient….. supra – from false premises but that’s another issue for another day.

  88. >Has our host or anybody here in any art, free play Kata or any organized way studied gouging the opponent’s eye(s) out?

    A couple of years ago, the last time my wife and I were looking for a new school, we auditioned an art closely related to Krav Maga that taught eye gouges. In drills you simulate with thumb pressure on the orbital bone immediately above the eye.

    The kuntao we’re studying now (wing chun + Filipino kali) teaches a backhand flicking rake with the fingernails as an eye strike. We don’t make contact when drilling that one.

    None of the other striking arts I’ve studied (TKD, shotokan karate, MMA) taught eye strikes. I believe it is quite unusual to do so – I’m sure insurance companies dislike the idea of such drills, and at any outfit that teaches kids it would make the parents blanch.

    I would expect to find these techniques taught only at very combat-oriented schools drawing experienced and serious students; both the places I’ve seen them fit that description, and it is not coincidental that I chose to train at one of them.

  89. Anthony: She’s from a fairly well connected ranching clan way out by the Costa Rican border, just down the road from the true middle of nowhere. .

    That said, barbarism is reaching even her little home town. After a criminal incident involving (an attack and robbery against) someone not in her family, an investigating cop told her brother, the Rep, “If they return don’t wait for us. Just get your gun, kill them, and hide the bodies.” Which is great advice but a terrible indicator.

  90. “see Athene of sufficient….. supra”

    I tend to think of them as Vectoids, having either direction but no magnitude, or magnitude but no direction. I’m not sure it’s techically correct, but it works for me.

  91. > I’m not sure it’s techically correct, but it works for me.

    It’s not. But it’s quite evocative. :-)

  92. “The navy…well, there are some really smart guys with stars on their shoulders but that doesn’t mean any of these guys are going to be good fighting admirals.”

    I suspect it’s easier to find a Spruance than a Halsey.

  93. Tom Kratman wrote:
    “I dunno, Cathy. I used to think that our tolerance for casualities couldn’t be proved to be higher than 28 KIA and was certainy no higher than 241. I was pleased – yes, very damned pleased – to be proven wrong in Kuwait, Iraq, Iraq again, and Afghanistan. But we have not yet proven that our society will not lose all heart if we lost all or almost all of a single CVN crew, since that would equal Iraq II and we lost heart there. (Yes, there were other factors, too, of course.)”

    Other factors, definitely. And as others have pointed out, it depends on what is at stake. If it’s Taiwan, yes, our political class and typical civilians could quickly lose heart. If the battle in which it’s lost is a major war with China, I think that’s a quite different situation.

    I suspect that many people in the 1930’s would have echoed your concerns, and they turned out to be wrong.

    “There’s also the time to build factor, which doesn’t seem to get easier or quicker as the size of the ship goes up. A CV-9 class, forex, was about 27k tons, unladen. A recent CVN is four or so times bigger, which one suspects is on the order of 4 times harder to build.”

    You’re being kind here. Four times is going to be more than four times harder to build as complexity goes up more quickly than linearly. But can smaller flattops operate in weather as bad as a full-scale CVN, and handle all the major aircraft in the current US naval lineup?

    “At least, by way of comparison, Essex took 20 months from laying of the keel to commissioning, while Nimitz was seven years between laying of the keel and commissioning.”

    Which brings up the question of what kind of war we are talking about. There really hasn’t been a full-scale war that has lasted long enough and taken up enough resources to involve crash-building vessels on this scale, not since WWII. The Cold War was different, long-lasting but slower paced and with few sea battles. I am really impressed with the amount of ship-building that we accomplished during WWII, both on the quick-build transport side and on the full-scale warship side (e.g., Essex-class carriers).

  94. “In those days, flattops cost a lot less in both absolute and proportional terms”

    Absolute, yes. Proportional I’m not so sure about, but I would welcome figures. Aircraft on the other hand have certainly gotten more expensive proportionally as well as absolutely, which is only sustainable as long as they are major force multipliers.

    If two forces had identical dollars to spend and access to all major defense contractors worldwide, one wonders who would win — the high tech force with a modest number of top-of-the-line American fighters, or a force that is about one tech generation out of date but has 20X as many aircraft? (This assumes that you have plenty of trained pilots, which may not be the case.)

    “and the press wasn’t salivating to turn every combat loss into an inevitable harbinger of defeat.”

    I don’t know what we can do about that. If all the leadership of the U.S., including the Fourth Estate, has truly succumbed to the Gramscian damage, then it doesn’t matter how good the military forces are. We may be reaching the point where the best outcome would be a military coup in the U.S., and that’s a frightening point in history to be.

    “And our political class included better and braver men who often had military experience themselves.”

    It saddens me that the sons of the elite no longer do military service. Post WWII may be the first time in American history where that was the case, though the Civil War provision of providing “substitutes” was certainly a force in the wrong direction.

  95. Tom Kratman wrote:
    “The way it happens, the way you avoid pissing off all these different types of people, is to have no values or character, no sense of morals or ethics, yourself.”

    Or, as said by others:

    “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” – Winston Churchill

    “A man with no enemies is a man with no character.” -Paul Newman

    I’m afraid that I don’t stand up very well by this measure. The corporate world where I live favors those who don’t openly dissent and who have many “friends” and no enemies, and I see too few patriots left among everyday civilians.

  96. IMHO Halsey was a miserable excuse for a fighting admiral – as opposed to a belligerent character; depending perhaps on your view of the Battle off Samar. In any event Halsey was totally unable to adapt personally and as a leader to changed circumstances – Halsey responded to the Divine Wind by pretty much ignoring it if it meant staying drunk AND by insisting the rest of the Navy also pretend the Kamikaze was nothing new and no threat so there was no reason to change anything in order to deal with the Kamikaze attacks. Halsey had a problem staying current anyway.

    …..you never knew what you were going to do in the next five minutes or how you were going to do it, because the printed instructions were never up to date….

    Captain Dyer of the Astoria in reference to service under Halsey
    This resulted in junior officers finding it necessary to swim between ships at Okinawa in order to confer on the then current enemy tactics – which evolved a great deal during the course of the fighting at Okinawa. There were brave men in the Navy at Okinawa including gunners who stayed in the aft gun tubs on radar picket destroyers with the airplane wing guns converging on them and shot it out with Zeros at whites of the eyes range as the airplane came up the wake trying to hit among the depth charges but Halsey had no moral courage at least and I doubt his physical courage at that stage. For an example from the period try Clifton Sprague.

    Your mileage of course may vary.

  97. @Cathy:
    >Other factors, definitely. And as others have pointed out, it depends on what is at stake. If it’s Taiwan, yes, our political class and typical civilians could quickly lose heart. If the battle in which it’s lost is a major war with China, I think that’s a quite different situation.

    I think who the degree to which our government is seen to be acting aggressively is a big factor, too. If China were to make a surprise attack on Taiwan, with a CVN getting suckerpunched being the first sign of hostilities, I think that even modern American society would gain, rather than lose, backbone from the incident (how far through the ensuing war we’d retain that backbone is another question). “Live and let live” is a big part of the mindset of modern democracies, which will put themselves in great strategic peril rather than violate that precept (as demonstrated by Europe’s handling of Nazi Germany in the leadup to WWII). But the scenario I outlined above would be seen as a huge violation of that principle on China’s part. Without the loss of American lives the voting public might be happier to let Taiwan be absorbed even then, but I think massive American casualties would actually make the voting public more willing to go to war in that particular scenario, if not downright hawkish.

    On the other hand, if there were a prolonged diplomatic crisis leading up to the invasion, in which the US government was seen by the public to be acting in a brinksmanly fashion, and a CVN were to be suckerpunched while operating a bit too close to the Chinese side of the straight, the voting public would turn into a writhing mass of invertebrates right there and then, the Navy would be pulled back, and Taiwan would be screwed.

  98. “I’m afraid that I don’t stand up very well by this measure. The corporate world where I live favors those who don’t openly dissent and who have many “friends” and no enemies, and I see too few patriots left among everyday civilians.”

    The question there is, “Does it really matter?” No one expects Don Quixote, tilting at fake giants he can’t hurt anyway, and which attempt wouldn’t matter even if he could.

    The military, though, is different. Everything – I mean EVERYTHING – has a non-trivial, life or death, moral component. I can understand making mistakes or setting your priorities wrong; that’s merely human and it would be news to me that I’d never done either myself. But setting the priority of career advancement over the welfare of your charges and the nation? I make my living with words and words fail to express my contempt for it.

  99. “Four times is going to be more than four times harder to build as complexity goes up more quickly than linearly. ” Funny, I wrote almost exactly that, then went and checked construction times and war/peace environment and decided, “Well, 84 or months to 20; about half the 20 being at peace…maybe I’m wrong.”

  100. I think some of the critics of ESR’s lasers-obsolete-aircraft theory, are misunderstanding what he said, he’s not saying that the current generation of lasers do, but that the ones that will be developed in the future from the current prototypes will.

    Above he implied that it would be in the next 50 years, to put that in perspective Little Willie was first tested in Sept. 1915, and most major armies where still using cavalry, by fifty years after than the Americans where already onto the second generation of the M60.

    Of course it was probably more the machine gun than the tank that obsoleted cavalry, but then the Gatling Gun was patented in 1861; in 1912 the Vickers Machine Gun was officially adopted by the British military.

    I suspect ESR has a better understanding of the technology than I do, but given the fact that various countries are looking at introducing early models already, my uneducated guess is that it’s feasible that the technology in fifty years time might be good enough to obsolete aircraft, or at least make significant changes to their use.

    On the subject of the essay, when and where might we be able to acquire a copy of that collection?

  101. @esr I still think the essay should be named “Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower Except When It’s Raining”.

    Your economic “advantage” is meaningless if the system isn’t combat capable. The physics is not on the side of the defender.

  102. @tom Regarding officer promotion my question to you is how much worse is it today vs the post Vietnam era?

    To get to flag rank you have to be a politician. That’s pretty much true of every human hierarchy. And it doesn’t mean that none of those guys ever made enemies.

  103. “Above he implied that it would be in the next 50 years, to put that in perspective Little Willie was first tested in Sept. 1915, and most major armies where still using cavalry, by fifty years after than the Americans where already onto the second generation of the M60.”

    Unless you expect two world wars to drive military advancement I would hazard charting the post WWII rate of advancement instead. 1964 – 2014 has seen tremendous advances but not the fundamental shifts seen from 1890-1940.

    Lasers aren’t likely to be it either.

    Vastly improved power storage may be.

  104. @nht, My military history knowledge is a little limited, but there does seem to be a bit of a trend of WWI military strategy changes being a matter of the generals catching up to the technology changes of the previous fifty to one hundred years. You’ll note for example one of my examples was of a technology developed between the mid-19th century to just before WWI.

    Also the 1960’s say the earliest spy satellites, the earliest cruise missiles, and was significantly pre-GPS, it has turned out that none of those technologies have completely changed the face of warfare, but all of them have advanced a lot in the last fifty years.

    Will DEWS changed the face of warfare? I don’t know, but I do know that in fifty years time, unless they’re abandoned, for good or bad reasons, they are going to be a lot better than what’s being tested now, and it sounds like what we’re seeing now can kill planes under ideal circumstances, and do so much, much more cheaply (SAMs) or at a longer range (20mm cannons) than anything else available. To my lay knowledge it certainly seems feasible that within the next fifty years we might see “under ideal circumstances” be changed to “under almost all circumstances”, and that very likely could fundamentally change the face of warfare.

  105. @meyers if it weren’t for Halsey we might have lost Guadalcanal. Yes, he screwed up Samar and ran into two typhoons but he always sailed toward the sound of guns and not away.

  106. “And of course the big problem with these weapons, like any other aimed weapon, is it is damn hard to hit something you can’t see. Drones aren’t stealthy now, but they, or at least some of them, surely will be.”

    It’s damn hard to stealth against vision, particularly when enhanced by optics. As stealth against active sensors becomes more viable, the development of passive optical sensor is going to pick back up again or accelerate

  107. >It’s damn hard to stealth against vision, particularly when enhanced by optics. As stealth against active sensors becomes more viable, the development of passive optical sensor is going to pick back up again or accelerate

    Infrared is the current thing. IRST sensors are everywhere now- every single modern Russian fighter has one, and the West is picking it up too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infra-red_search_and_track

  108. >“Four times is going to be more than four times harder to build as complexity goes up more quickly than linearly. ” Funny, I wrote almost exactly that, then went and checked construction times and war/peace environment and decided, “Well, 84 or months to 20; about half the 20 being at peace…maybe I’m wrong.”

    Our shipbuilding has gotten a lot better. Modular techniques. We also have much better design tools.

    My father’s sister helped build the Nimitz. I’ve heard there were a lot of other things going on at the time that delayed the construction.

  109. > It’s damn hard to stealth against vision, particularly when enhanced by optics.

    But it is not that hard to stealth against CV, vision pattern detection… at least in visible spectrum.

  110. @Tom Kratman
    > But setting the priority of career advancement over the welfare of your charges and the nation? I make my living with words and words fail to express my contempt for it.

    I think that is an interesting comment Tom. People are people and are always going to serve their best interests. The military uses various mind hacks, some that have been perfected by religion, to convince their members that their “best interests” align with the nation’s — the intense patriotism inculcated into our military leaders for example, or memetics surrounding courage, character and bravery or being part of something bigger than yourself.

    In the past the enlisted men have had their self interest tied to their unit’s interest by recruiting units from small local areas, so that a man cannot escape his reputation when he leaves the military, and a culture that makes reputation vital to success in life. Similarly with the officer corps. Though their reputation is more diffuse because their community was (typically) smaller and more spread out.

    Of course the modern military is a little different — it depends less on community opprobrium than on internal oprobium, and the “band of brothers” meme that links, in a familial manner your unit and your life. Unit, corps, God, country indeed.

    If you advocate a purely meritorious structure in the military, you might consider the elimination of this old anachronism, that is to say the split between “officers” and “men”. The idea that a spotty faced moron fresh out of college commanding a unit with a sargent of twenty years hardened experience is really rather silly, notwithstanding the various ways and means in place to plug the hole.

    I am sure all the macho guys in this blog will be all “how can you dis courage, bravery and patriotism”, but I don’t dis them. I think they are what they are. If they are satisfying to people then I think that is a great thing. But the idea that they are further up some undefined moral spectrum is purely subjective. And for sure, they are a technique used by the powerful to suppress the natural inclinations of men to protect their own interests and the interests of their family.

    Perhaps locally organized militia are unsuitable for today’s advanced military world, but there is a certain moral honesty and decency about them that is surely quite appealing.

  111. “The idea that a spotty faced moron fresh out of college commanding a unit with a sargent of twenty years hardened experience is really rather silly, notwithstanding the various ways and means in place to plug the hole.”

    I know a few mustangs so the career path is possible. I also know guys that finished college and elected to go enlisted rather than officer.

    And for the US military the grizzled master chief, gunny or sgt major commands far more respect than a butter bar. This is why we are so effective. We have career noncoms and it’s an area of pride.

  112. “If you advocate a purely meritorious structure in software development, you might consider the elimination of this old anachronism, that is to say the split between “management” and “programmers”.”

    Having been a few places where developers ended up as management I’m thinking the division is not an anachronism. Some guys will successfully transition from programmer to manager. Many won’t. Likewise some guys would successfully transition from enlisted to officer but many won’t or even want to.

    I can do management. I don’t want to. Tech lead (aka developer non-com) is where I am most comfortable and most effective. Program management would drive me to drink. Been there done that, not worth the white hair for me.

    One issue with out current officer corps is up or out. Some guys would be much happier and more effective if they got to keep the job they loved and did very well as opposed to being forced up (or out).

  113. Jessica, the difference between noncom and officer is the difference between manager and supervisor, with the additional improvement that the supervisors have more experience than the managers (at least at lower levels) and there’s a culture of just-this-side-of-requiring the low-level managers to listen to the supervisors. The wise lieutenant solicits his NCOs’ opinions and listens to them, even if he doesn’t actually do what they suggest.

    It’s also the difference between deciding what is to be done and how it is to be done. This story illustrates the lesson: A group of OCS cadets is going through an exercise in the field. There’s a sergeant nearby with several soldiers. The instructor tells the cadets to raise a tent. They fumble around and generally make a mess. Finally, the instructor calls them off, and says “This is how you raise a tent.” He turns to the sergeant and says, “Get that tent up.” The sergeant salutes, says “Yes, sir”, and proceeds to have the soldiers do it.

    Our military has fully internalized that lesson, and as noted, it’s one of the reasons it’s so effective, despite (or possibly because of) having low-level units commanded essentially by kids straight out of college.

  114. So did George Armstrong Custer. It made Custer the better cavalry leader at Gettysburg (than the southern cavalry who were equally glory hounds but had it come back to bite them and their cause) but not in the end a good thing for Custer, his men, and his country.

  115. Cathy:
    “I’m afraid that I don’t stand up very well by this measure. The corporate world where I live favors those who don’t openly dissent and who have many ‘friends’ and no enemies, and I see too few patriots left among everyday civilians.”

    Tom Kratman:
    “The question there is, ‘Does it really matter?’ No one expects Don Quixote, tilting at fake giants he can’t hurt anyway, and which attempt wouldn’t matter even if he could.”

    True, perhaps I am being too hard on myself. I’ve never been in a situation where it really mattered, and until I’m put in such a situation there’s no way to know if I would rise to the occasion. For most of those of us outside the militiary, we will probably never be faced with such a situation.

  116. >The wise lieutenant solicits his NCOs’ opinions and listens to them, even if he doesn’t actually do what they suggest.

    Jay is correct. The officer/noncom split has developed tremendous functional value that is unrelated to its origins.

    In origin, it is true that the distinction reflected the late stages of a pre-industrial class structure that is now effectively dead. Even in the U.S., officers are presumptively “gentlemen”, commissioned by act of Congress in a manner that recalls the issuance of patents of nobility and chivalric orders. Noncoms on the other hand are “baseborn” and not to be saluted or addressed as “sir”.

    However, think carefully about the value system implied by the fact that if you slip up on this a noncom is very likely to say “Don’t call me `sir’, I work for a living!” Career noncoms in the Anglophone tradition are proud, tough men who in general don’t want to be officers. They have embraced a different role. They are the men who make it all work. They are continuity. They make boys into men, not just the boys they command but (not infrequently) the boys they formally obey as well.

    It just happens that this accidental, historically contingent “class” distinction serves the functional needs of a citizen military extremely well, so it has been retained.

  117. When I knew something about it the United States Army made a real effort to avoid forcing people with an IQ gap of more than 20 points to work closely together. This is more a matter of task than rank – but the Butter Bar is going to know things the First Sergeant mostly doesn’t know and mostly doesn’t care and so will never learn.

    A couple of very famous writers of speculative fiction with a military slant once sort of collaborated – one field grade who graduated from a university with Military in the name, the other a short service draftee with a bent for history. One result was they demonstrated once again that each knew things the other didn’t.

    Iron Dome is I think really a point defense system. I’d like to have seen YAL-1 done as a series of limited function prototypes (Dr. Pournelle’s X-projects) instead of spending a lot of money over years and years to get a zero defect gold plated working weapon system and failing – in large part IMHO because the ad hoc multi company multiagency teams worked poorly together and too many people were not airplane people regardless of the name on the building.

    But then again IMHO the biggest obstacle was the software.

    After a dozen experimental trials and few people killed it might be flying racetracks in the sky of the Middle East today and, again need I say IMHO, changing the game.

  118. “It just happens that this accidental, historically contingent ‘class’ distinction serves the functional needs of a citizen military extremely well, so it has been retained.”

    It does evidently work pretty well. I am particularly impressed by how something similar gets reinvented and performs successfully in many competitive performance-oriented fields — not just software mentioned by another commenter, but other kinds of engineering work too, and (according to my less-detailed secondhand knowledge) in some high-end sales work too. But I’m not sure to what extent that effectiveness is what determines the exact borders of the way the system is used in the military. I have read a little about the odd tensions about whether pilots are necessarily officers. And I have seen cynical observations from many people (including Kratman IIRC) in several times and many places about changing proportions of officers in ways that look more political than functional. So I’d more cautiously say something like “a lot of what’s going on is that it works pretty well, so well that it’s nontrivial to make an effective organization beyond a certain scale without reinventing something similar…” but go on to say something more cynical about organizational politics and public choice theory.:-|

  119. @William Newman
    > It does evidently work pretty well.

    Modern training techniques and diet means that modern racehorses would undoubtedly do better than racehorses from past times. American racehorses, with better training and diet, probably do better than racehorses from many other less well organized and provisioned countries.

    Nonetheless, a Trabant from the crappiest manufacturing system in the world will still kick the racehorse’s butt in a head to head.

    Which is to say just because a system is better today than it was, or just because the American system is better than others, doesn’t deny the fact that a better system would be orders of magnitude better.

    The idea that “it works pretty well” seems entirely at odds with what I have heard about the military — an organization known as a cesspool of waste and mismanagement, and in fact here we have heard clearly about the extremely ineffective promotion system that it uses.

    I found the example of programmers and managers particularly compelling, especially from this audience. After all, you are all a bunch of rebel programmers at heart who for the most part eschew the value of the PHB, and the top down backward schedule, or formal process or layer of documentation. So somehow using this example seems exactly backward.

    Managers are undoubtedly a major hindrance to productivity in software development, so why would we want to impose them on an organization with lots of bombs and guns? Managers are useful, as long as you don’t put them in charge of anything, and the very best managers are the ones who come from the trenches. Why would it be any less true were the trenches not metaphorical?

  120. “So did George Armstrong Custer. It made Custer the better cavalry leader at Gettysburg (than the southern cavalry who were equally glory hounds but had it come back to bite them and their cause) but not in the end a good thing for Custer, his men, and his country.”

    Well, not a good thing for Custer and his men for sure but we’re talking 16 officers and 242 troopers KIA. From the larger perspective it spurred Congress to expand the army to something less shoestring.

    Every virtue can become a vice if pushed too far or in the wrong circumstance. An offensively minded cavalry commander is better than a defensively minded or overly cautious one.

    Spruance was criticized for not being more aggressive at Philippine Sea. Amusingly Mitscher had better insight in both cases where Halsey and Spruance were criticized.

    Note that In Philippine Sea that the US had a unified command structure. In Leyte Gulf you had both MacArthur and Nimitz coordinating. This was a contributor to the comms snafu regarding the status of TF34.

  121. “I found the example of programmers and managers particularly compelling, especially from this audience. After all, you are all a bunch of rebel programmers at heart who for the most part eschew the value of the PHB, and the top down backward schedule, or formal process or layer of documentation. So somehow using this example seems exactly backward.

    Managers are undoubtedly a major hindrance to productivity in software development, so why would we want to impose them on an organization with lots of bombs and guns? Managers are useful, as long as you don’t put them in charge of anything, and the very best managers are the ones who come from the trenches. Why would it be any less true were the trenches not metaphorical?”

    Oh bullshit. I have too many battle scars from programmers promoted from the trenches into management to believe that and have known lots of excellent managers with no programming background.

    And poo-poo systems engineering all you like but you can’t get to large scale software from simply half-assing it. Process and documentation is required at scale. Good management is required. TTPs are required. Hell, powerpoint is required even it’s considered a joke by warriors in the trenches (wanna bet Adm Spruance would have used Powerpoint?). We have three levels of warfare (tactical, operational and strategic) and you plan and fight at these levels with different tools and skills.

    Having sergeants lead armies results in the same kind of bad ending as having generals lead platoons. Programmers and sergeants have a tactical mindset. Generals and Executives a strategic mindset. The guys in the middle are required to organize the tactics to meet the strategic in the operational art.

  122. Has our host or anybody here in any art, free play Kata or any organized way studied gouging the opponent’s eye(s) out?

    When doing randori or when a waza goes south I have more than once wound up with my fingers in my instructors eyes. Not hard mind you, but then we weren’t going at speed. If your MA has a grappling component or uses any sort of joint locks and *doesn’t* teach sticking your finger in someone’s eye until something hard stops it, then you might want to consider exactly what you’re studying and why.

  123. @esr:

    It’s worth spending 10K times the cost of an antiair laser to kill a capital ship. It isn’t worth spending even 10 times the cost of the whole ship to kill the ship.

    It really depends on what that ship is delivering and where the package is addressed.

    Spending 10 billion dollars to kill a 100 million dollar ship is cheaper than not spending it and replacing Seattle.

  124. “Managers are undoubtedly a major hindrance to productivity in software development, so why would we want to impose them on an organization with lots of bombs and guns?”

    In essence, because lots of military endeavours naturally involve more than 1k people, and indeed some of the important ones can involve more than 1M people.

    If you need something done by hundreds or thousands of people, and it’s not something that fits markets well, it’s not trivial to avoid imposing managers on the organization. We are bad enough at scaling intricate software development to zillions of people that for software arguably the answer is “don’t do that”, instead either find a way to do the core intricate job with no more than dozens of people (budgeting for rapidly increasing pain as you get over half a dozen people) or give up on the job. But many things other than that kind of hardcore software development — things such as running a railroad, or a mine, or automobile manufacturing, or a chain of restaurants, or a somewhat-selective industrial-scale thing-breaking and people-killing service — do scale up to many more than dozens of people. When they do, markets or hierarchies are the main scalable ways we know to organize things, and (for some kinds of enterprises and in some ways, some pointed out famously by Coase) hierarchies can outcompete a bunch of independent market actors. Not just in the fevered rationalizations of antimarket folk who are scheming to be privileged under the nonmarket arrangement, but in observed outcomes in competition. There’s room for reasonable people to disagree about quite how this applies in the military — and I for one doubt the conventional wisdom that mercenaries went permanently obsolete centuries ago — but that reasonable disagreement runs both ways, so I don’t understand how you can be confident hierarchical management is unsuitable for military stuff. I am not sure it is most suitable, but I don’t think poorly of people for coming to the conclusion that it is.

  125. Mmmm…Tom you really believe that Gen Meyer had no lasting effect on the Army?

    Before his tenure you had a hollow post Vietnam force where six of 10 divisions were combat ready. After his tenure we had an army that was capable of executing Desert Storm. It wasn’t all him of course and he had Reagan’s budget to thank for vastly improving readiness but still. If you had to draw a line between suck and non-suck his tenure is as good a point as any.

    Sure the army dumped COHORT and unit rotation thing but it seemed like something hard to manage effectively. COHORT was kinda doomed to failure being a poor implementation of a generally good idea (unit continuity) in a piecemeal fashion.

  126. Managers are undoubtedly a major hindrance to productivity in software development, so why would we want to impose them on an organization with lots of bombs and guns? Managers are useful, as long as you don’t put them in charge of anything, and the very best managers are the ones who come from the trenches. Why would it be any less true were the trenches not metaphorical?

    Just a quick precis of my military experience–4 years Marines, 1980s. 2 years Army NG, 90s, 4 years AF Reserves, 2000s, one year in a war zone as a contractor, 2 years on the opposite end of things, again as a contractor. Working in, with or for the military across 4 decades. Enlisted/NCO and technical type. This is just to give you an understanding of what I’ve seen since I first raised my right hand 30 years ago while still in high school.

    A good mid-level manager does at least four things:

    1) He focuses the flow of information from the group up the hierarchy.
    2) Focuses the flow of information from the hierarchy to the group.
    3) Focuses the group on the goals and needs of the rest of the organization.
    4) Arranges for the assets the group needs to meet those goals.

    Your line manager/entry level manager deals with the day to day operations of the “troops”.

    With programmers or with moderately experienced folks there is less need for “line managers”, but in the military your squad and platoon sergeants are making sure their stay on (specific) task (like show up for work showered, shaved and in the right uniform (no, really. It’s a problem sometimes), that they get their hair cut and get their barracks cleaned properly. Military properly, not college dorm room properly.

    My uncle, in the Marines in the 1970s, got in trouble for having a couple bails of hay in his barracks room. Srsly.

    NCOs help “the troops” deal with all the sorts of things that professionals, and even blue collar workers 3-4 years older would handle. Senior enlisted help the junior NCOs, and deal with other “tactical” issues.

    Remember, we’re talking about MOSTLY 18 to 22 year olds. People who would be cutting class in college. These people are in charge of half million dollar fire trucks (I was at 21) and actually turning the truck towards a plane crash and putting out the fire. Sometimes without the senior enlisted there, because they got hit by a missile on the way. (Neither of those situations ever happened to me, btw).

    In the mid 2000s I attended a basic school for Airmen @kessler air force base in MS. The kids there were a bit smarter than the Marines I was with at firefighting school, but they were less disciplined (Marines v.s. AF after all) and no more “together”.

    In this analogy the Officers are mid level managers, and the NCOs and Senior NCOs are line managers.

    Officers are the mid-level managers who deal with resource and strategic issues. An LT should never tell an Staff SGT *how* to take a hill, he will, however, inform the Sgt. that a hill must be taken and that “higher” would like it to be *THAT* one.

    Most people, by the time they are 24 or 25, are past needing external discipline to get a shave or to show up for work on time on a regular basis–or have moved into occupations that don’t need it.

    But in the military a 24 year old is *probably* on his second enlistment, or about to start it. Is likely to be an E-4, which in the Marines is an NCO (first manager) or in the Air Force and most Army slots an somewhat experienced technician in his MOS. At 28, a time when a lot of civilians are still “kids” in their fields, he is probably in charge of 12 to 30 people, and not just “make sure the floors are clean”, but “You need to get dental taken care of. Your shots are out of date” which is bad enough but also “Medic, get over here. This kid’s lost most of his leg . Thomas get your 240 up and hit that building over there. Jones, is there a fast mover up there who can give us cover”. Meanwhile the Lt, probably 4-5 years his junior is trying to coordinate with other platoons to make sure his group is holding the line and neither advancing too fast, nor falling back too slow etc.

    And yes, the Sgt. could properly do most of what the LT has to do. But the LT needs that experience for when he takes over a company, then a battalion then a brigade. The Senior NCO will likewise get more experience and larger commands, but he’s always focused on the troops and the equipment where the Officer is working at a higher level.

    Ultimately though you can’t really compare the Civilian with the Military, with the possible exception of places like fast food. When you do that you start to see why the bifurcation is still relevant today.

    Note that this is not intended as a slight on soldiers. They’re young, they’re inexperienced and often away from home for the first time in their lives, much like college freshman and sophomores, the don’t get a failing grade, they get a fatal one.

    Unlike freshman and sophomores a

  127. Colonel, if you’re still with us:

    In Training for War, How much of Hamilton’s experience was autobiographical? Specifically the bit about the 2 privates && the Banglore torpedo, and the Egyptian tents?

  128. “But it is not that hard to stealth against CV, vision pattern detection… at least in visible spectrum.”

    That parenthetical is the flaw that blows the rest of the issues out – because everything you want to shoot at is an active heat source. 30 years ago they built a sensor system, small and cheap enough to use in air to air missiles, that can track and home on the heat generated by friction on the leading edge of aircraft wings. (Also see http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewardetect.php#nostealth – the numbers are bigger, but the problem is the same – you’ve got no place to hide your thermal signature, you’re dumping enough energy to counteract the forces of gravity constantly; and you’ve got a lot less area to hide in). Aircraft/missiles will not be able to hide from passive detection of their thermal signatures. See the IRST article up-thread

  129. “Aircraft/missiles will not be able to hide from passive detection of their thermal signatures.”

    I suspect ships have a similar problem on a different scale. It is absolutely impossible for aircraft to avoid heat venting problems, because thermodynamics rules against you once you get down to disturbing the smallest-scale vibrations of the universe. It might be merely very difficult for a moving ship to unravel the macroscopic work it does on the water so that it doesn’t leave a wake, because working with macroscopic waves (while dumping your waste heat at another scale) gives you a lot more fundamental wiggle room. (Possibly I’m overlooking something and something in the fluid mechanics equations — viscosity? turbulence? — unavoidably transfers some of the energy lost to drag into scales where you start having fundamental problems undoing it.) As far as I know, though, it is still totally impractical for a big fast ship to avoid leaving a wake. I doubt that searching the open literature gives everything that is known about analyzing sensor data to recognize wakes, but from first principles it doesn’t seem likely to be impossibly difficult. And any information from the wake that the sensor platforms can use to close in on the target will tend to make it harder for countermeasures (camouflage, whatever) to obscure the target itself.

  130. Jeez, we’ve had IRST for decades and the F22 has the equivalent in its sensor fusion suite.

    Do you really think that the forgot about IR signature when they built the F22?

    If it were that easy aircraft would be done already because modern SAMs are very deadly.

  131. One thing worth noting on the matter of CVN’s.

    Simply put, they’re designed to engage larger carriers (to wit: land-based air). To successfully engage land-based air you need either bloody big carriers or a bloody lot of them. The US chose bloody big. The CVBG is designed for two fundamental roles, sea denial and land strike, IE blocking the GIUK gap and air strikes against land based targets. The CVBG can do this because there’s a handful of countries who have Air Forces more potent than a single CVBG.

    For a real naval fight multiple smaller carriers are better (if only because you have more survivability in your platforms), and that’s the tactical paradigm that was used for pretty much every significant carrier engagement against naval forces. In such a fight the US LHA’s or Japanese Helicopter Destroyers would be key, because these are the only two forces setup to engage from multiple platforms, the Japanese have 2 carriers with a third commissioning next year and a fourth on the way, plus three amphibious ships large enough to function as carriers. Coincidentally Izumo-class ships are pretty similar in size to an Essex class carrier, while the current USN LHA’s are the size of a Midway class carrier, these being arguably the two most successful carrier designs.

  132. @William Newman
    > In essence, because lots of military endeavours naturally involve more than 1k people, and indeed some of the important ones can involve more than 1M people.

    See both you and the other guy are kind of assuming your conclusion. Is management hierarchy needed because of the above, or is the above true because we have a management hierarchy? Before you jump to answer that question let me go on with some of your other comments.

    However, let me say that I am not by any means advocating the elimination of hierarchy in the military. My look at the software management philosophy was from the perspective of the predominant software development ideas in this blog, which I agree with somewhat, though certainly not wholeheartedly. Moreover my comments about the military was not the elimination of rank and hierarchy, it was the elimination of the anachronistic division between officers and men. I don’t advocate tactical experts making strategic decisions., rather I advocate a meritocracy based on training and experience rather than an artificial split.

    > We are bad enough at scaling intricate software development to zillions of people that for software arguably the answer is “don’t do that”, instead either find a way to do the core intricate job with no more than dozens of people

    Indeed. However, big software systems can get built that way too. It is helpful to have light governance protocols for sure, but small groups with directions and resources can often organically grow things far better than top down command structures.

    The truth is that these big mega command and control software projects usually do work like that anyway. There is a patina of management to give a pretense of control, but the software still basically grows in an organic mechanism anyway, even if it is crammed into a form of imposed structure. The management makes very little effect, except perhaps as a bullshit barrier, or a communication channel, and of course as a constant hurdle and generator of pointless, time wasting nonsense.

    Which again, isn’t to say some high level governance is necessary.

    In fact it almost goes without saying that top down structures are insanely wasteful. It is why Google, Microsoft and Apply buys companies. They are too big and bloated to actually do stuff themselves. It is also why big companies have skunkworks type projects. The military is a poster boy for profligacy, waste and stupidity. “You want me to paint this rock why?”

    It is common to to talk about economies in scale, however, far less frequently do we talk about the dis-economies of scale. The most serious dis-economy of scale is communication, and specifically command and control. I used to think that communication costs were proportional to the square of the number of participants, I am now convinced that it is worse than that, cubic, or perhaps exponential.

    Anyway I am rambling and forgot my point. Mega armies and navies are definitely in the “when all you have is a hammer every problem seems like a nail” problem. In fact, it is a temptation to use them because you have them, which is why our founding fathers had a real fear of standing armies.

    Why then is the US army so good? Because their opponents are organized in an equally inefficient way, see my example of racehorse and cars. I remember watching a documentary on some special ops guys, either SEALs or SAS, I don’t remember. The dumb ass interviewer asked the guys “why are you so good”? Their response was “It isn’t that we are good, it is just that the other guy sucks.”

    And I think that today is the 100th anniversary of the perfect example of this, the beginning of World War I, probably the second biggest war in the history of human kind, and a war that was basically about nothing, in fact was about “we all have armies, so let’s find a pretext to use them.”

    OK, this was meant to be a short response… sorry about that.

  133. > In fact, it is a temptation to use them because you have them, which is why our founding fathers had a real fear of standing armies.

    A quibble: I don’t think the modern US military was what the founding fathers were afraid of when they spoke of the dangers of standing armies. Rather, it’s the various and sundry police departments and law-enforcement agencies that are the modern version of the “standing armies” that they rightly considered so dangerous.

    The idea was that law-enforcement and security was suppose to be “militia” – people who were armed only with those weapons available to ordinary civilian joes. Instead, we have uniformed troops, armed with weapons highly restricted or outright forbidden to ordinary private citizens – the sort of of “troops, or ships of war,” that the States aren’t suppose to have without extra-special Congressional permission.

    They may be lightweight compared to the US military, or even to the “real” armies of a first or second-tier power, but they’re still “standing armies.”

  134. “But it is not that hard to stealth against CV, vision pattern detection… at least in visible spectrum.”

    That parenthetical is the flaw that blows the rest of the issues out – because everything you want to shoot at is an active heat source. 30 years ago they built a sensor system, small and cheap enough to use in air to air missiles, that can track and home on the heat generated by friction on the leading edge of aircraft wings. (Also see http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewardetect.php#nostealth – the numbers are bigger, but the problem is the same – you’ve got no place to hide your thermal signature, you’re dumping enough energy to counteract the forces of gravity constantly; and you’ve got a lot less area to hide in). Aircraft/missiles will not be able to hide from passive detection of their thermal signatures. See the IRST article up-thread

    Anti-ship aircraft and missiles cannot “hug the ground” and hide among terrain… but at least missiles can I think go under water becoming a torpedo. Gliding to reduce waste heat at last mile is not a solution… but heat decoys can be (unless the point defense is good enough to kill decoys and missiles).

  135. @jessica. You cannot “organically grow” the Apollo program. Or a F22. Or any other large human endeavor.

    The argument that the military is big because it is inefficiently organized is stupid. If there are two things that humans have been doing since the dawn of time it’s fucking and fighting each other.

    The bottom line is Romans beat Celts until Celts learn how to fight the Roman way with a bigger and better army.

    SEALs and SAS are good because they fucking ARE good not because everyone else sucks. They are the 1%ers that exist in every army but are gathered together in one small unit. This is like saying that Olympic athletes aren’t good it’s just that everyone else sucks.

    You cannot build a military around just SOF. There just aren’t enough people that qualify. And if you ONLY have SOF, SOF style training and small unit focus then you’ll get run over by any reasonably large and competent conventional force. US Marines vs USSOCOM will result in a great kill ratio for the SOF guys but a Marine victory in a war between the two because the marines can take ground and capture objectives.

    Even more so if you let the Marines keep their MARSOC regiment.

  136. “You cannot build a military around just SOF. There just aren’t enough people that qualify. And if you ONLY have SOF, SOF style training and small unit focus then you’ll get run over by any reasonably large and competent conventional force.”

    Yes. (Or at least yes, probably, where the biggest exception that I can think of is that no one has really gotten serious about modern high intensity war and it’s hard to guess how it would work out. WWIII held tomorrow would probably not look like WWII, and conceivably it could look a little like SOF types making like cockroaches while calling in nuclear airstrikes.)

    Also the kind of current SOF-heavy tactics that make it into the popular consciousness are extremely specialized not just for low-intensity warfare, but for low intensity warfare in a backward area with no non-backward suppliers. Just as you can get more with a kind word and a gun, you can get more with SOF and routine air transport even within sight of enemy positions, attack and surveillance aircraft loitering safely overhead, extremely effective signals intelligence, superior night-vision gear, and reliable GPS. So you really can have some SOF guys calling in cheap precise airstrikes and fairly routinely stepping out of helicopters anywhen anywhere. And lo, then they can mess up a lot of enemies. But that gets harder if the enemy is not backward (rough and ready definition: someplace where it’s hard to operate medium-tech extractive industries like oil using local labor) and isn’t relying on crummy equipment, a mixture of mediocre old gear and very poorly improvised new gear. For example, having to put 100 pounds of low-grade explosive right next to a road in order to kill a vehicle is 1930s tech at best; if the insurgents were fighting at the same tech level as the SOF guys, that threat gets upgraded to half a dozen trickier choices (e.g. something like a Javelin-class missile planted 1km away from the road and given preregistered coordinates) and patrol and logistic friction tends to increase significantly.

    SOF-ish effectiveness wouldn’t go away in fights against capable opponents, and sometimes cost-effectiveness might even increase, because capable opponents can generate more higher-value special targets than backward opponents. (E.g., capturing an Enigma or a radar set was tricky and valuable back in WWII; I would guess fewer Macguffins of that class are available in Iraq or Afghanistan.) But a lot of the general effectiveness we see in central Asia would probably go away in that scenario of a small number of SOF types contending with a much larger number of ordinary Marines. Being able to field only the top 1% or so is a big advantage, and bigger organizations naturally lose some efficiency by tripping over their own feet in various ways, but the Marines are pretty good, and some kinds of friction kill very good people roughly as fast as they kill merely good people, and the best Marines are very good, and on a given day a few merely good people in a 100-person unit can surprise everybody by being very good.

    (Incidentally, another way of expressing the backwardness of the enemies involved: it would be quite a challenge for any government to run the areas involved well enough that tax revenues could pay for the salaries and gear and training and pensions that the US has devoted to the fight. And yet another way: if you pick opponents in a region where your mostly-non-SOF capabilities are sufficient for you to suffer 100ish KIA while conquering a regionally formidable nation, be careful about concluding that very high effectiveness of SOF implies SOF awesomeness, because enemy weakness is a plausible confounding factor.)

  137. @Nigel
    > You cannot “organically grow” the Apollo program. Or a F22.

    My argument was with respect to software which is totally different than these physical artifacts. Software is vastly more complex and vastly more flexible than big hunks of metal, and so an entirely different paradigm is appropriate. And it is certainly possible to organically grow the software for these systems. Complex, tightly coupled systems are built that way all the time.

    MY experience is that human groups are have similarly large complexity and dynamic flexibility to software, and so groups of people organized around objectives, and growing those objectives, is much more effective within the context of governing principles. Large corporations are temples of waste and inefficiency because of the management structure and control.

    However, your choice of Apollo is interesting, since it was created in a kind of Skunkworks type of environment since everyone knew that the normal government processes couldn’t fulfill Kennedy’s vision in a decade of decades never mind a decade. I am sorry, I don’t have an opinion on the Raptor project, I don’t know much about it.

    As to your other matters, I don’t believe I made any of the claims you are shooting down. I certainly don’t think the military should be based around special ops teams. I refer you to my other comments as to what I think in this respect.

    However, Iraq and Afghanistan really are examples of the leverage of small groups over big iron. A tiny force of insurgents nearly beat the largest military in the world by small group tactics with broad general governance. It was ugly what they did, but they did nearly win. It was only when we increased the ratio of Americans to opponents from 1,000 to 1 to 10,000 to 1 that we could successfully win. (This figures are meant to be illustrative, not literal.)

    In many respects of course the real question is not even the implementation of the objectives but whether they are the right objectives at all. I think the US government interferes in other people’s business WAY to much. It is certainly true that if you want to take over other countries you need the type of military we have, and if you want to run an empire you do need the modern equivalent of the Royal Navy in its heyday. But neither is what America is about or should be about. We have a legitimate right to self defense, and sometimes that defensive perimeter needs to be stretched beyond our boundaries, but our present carrier fleet is designed for much more than self defense.

    and like I say, having a big fat hammer like the USS Nimitz and its group makes you want to hit nails all over the place, even if they don’t need nailing. Perfect example was the recent piracy crazy in the Arabian sea. It could have been dealt with by small private security force a few GPMGs and a RPG or two. But instead we send in the billion dollar a day Navy to swat the fly with an ICBM.

    Let’s learn the lesson of the Europeans in WWI. If countries have a big military force they will find a reason to use it. One dead tyrant-in-the-making is hardly a reason for 15 million dead. Many a politician’s reputation is built on a mountain of bloodied corpses, bloodied for few reasons other than the political self aggrandizement of the nation and the career of the politician.

  138. @william

    “And yet another way: if you pick opponents in a region where your mostly-non-SOF capabilities are sufficient for you to suffer 100ish KIA while conquering a regionally formidable nation, be careful about concluding that very high effectiveness of SOF implies SOF awesomeness, because enemy weakness is a plausible confounding factor.”

    Mmmm….yes, they’d have a much harder time against the IDF than against Iraq to achieve success but I think they’d probably manage well enough.

    Amusingly I picked the USMC which is a pretty fair match against the IDF in size and capability. It was probably a bit unfair to pick the USMC (or the IDF) for this comparison. But you could pick Germany or the UK in the same under 200K active duty military weight class and get the same results.

  139. “yes, they’d have a much harder time against the IDF”

    Sorry, I was speaking carelessly about the region; I didn’t intend to imply the IDF was weak, except perhaps in the same mild roundabout way I was arguing that SOF shouldn’t be overrated based on their performance in the region. (So yes, the IDF is clearly an effective military organization, but any tendency to consider them supereffective based on their performance against regional opponents — not so common now, but annoyingly common before the fighting in Iraq — should be resisted.) The Israelis are a kind of transplant, in the region but only partially of it, and are much more of a modern nation than any of their neighbors. Everybody else in the region finds it a considerable challenge to build organizations (military or commercial; also technical academic, for good measure) that don’t make rivals from North America, Western Europe, Israel, or East Asia look brilliant by comparison.

  140. @jessica:

    “More to the point, NASA personnel employed a “program management” concept that centralized authority over design, engineering, procurement, testing, construction, manufacturing, spare parts, logistics, training, and operations. The management of the program was recognized as critical to Apollo’s success in November 1968, when Science magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed:

    In terms of numbers of dollars or of men, NASA has not been our largest national undertaking, but in terms of complexity, rate of growth, and technological sophistication it has been unique….It may turn out that [the space program’s] most valuable spin-off of all will be human rather than technological: better knowledge of how to plan, coordinate, and monitor the multitudinous and varied activities of the organizations required to accomplish great social undertakings.

    The editor of Science probably did not fully understand the complex project management procedures used on Project Apollo.”

    ..

    “Once we had defined the mission and worked with Chris and Bill and their people to understand a little bit more about the operations, we were able to organize the system a little bit better. I think the biggest challenges that we had, or at least that I, from where I saw the program, was one of communication and coordination. I certainly had been used to working on the smaller jobs, smaller programs, where you intimately knew almost all of the people involved and were able to, by personal relations, do most of the management things you needed to do. All of a sudden, we were thrust into a great big program with tens of thousands of people involved. And trying to get communication and organization set up so that everybody understood how the program worked was probably the biggest challenge.”

    “And perhaps my major contact at that time was not with the Manned Spacecraft Center, but with Marshall Space Flight Center and working with Wernher von Braun and trying to convince them that they needed to have something that we called systems engineering, or an understanding of the total system and the interfaces between the launch vehicle and the spacecraft and the launch complex, and what needed to be done in order to make sure that those interfaces, when they came together, met the needs of the overall mission. And that, of course, was a key in the long run to the success of Apollo because we did set up a very deep and strict interface control system that made sure that when you delivered things to the Cape, almost always they fit together. And that, I think, was the most important thing.”

    http://history.nasa.gov/monograph14.pdf

  141. “My argument was with respect to software which is totally different than these physical artifacts. Software is vastly more complex and vastly more flexible than big hunks of metal, and so an entirely different paradigm is appropriate. And it is certainly possible to organically grow the software for these systems. Complex, tightly coupled systems are built that way all the time.”

    Except you have very few examples where this is true. The failure modes for large software projects is pretty much the same as the failure modes of a large civil engineering project (nuke plant, dam, etc).

  142. @william no, no I was agreeing with you. US Forces (SOF or conventional) look great vs the Iraqi military but the IDF would be a tougher fight. The disparity in training, equipment, etc is not as large.

    SOF is a lot like putting together a basketball dream team and making them a permanent team vs a one off olympic team. Some NBA teams will do much better than others when played against them. Some will even win.

  143. @nht
    > Except you have very few examples where this is true.

    Well the obvious one is the creation of probably the biggest engineering endeavor in human history that is to say the Internet and its associated services. It developed organically with the light governance structures I described.

  144. “the Internet and its associated services. It developed organically with the light governance structures I described.”

    Except the parts that didn’t.

    Remember “managers are undoubtedly a major hindrance to productivity in software development, so why would we want to impose them”? Some of the bits and pieces (like chip fabs, manufacturing of some key components of chip fabs, constructing various of the long-haul links, and probably dozens of “I, Pencil”-style unsung things) involved enough people and capital that in practice they had managers involved. Lots of managers. And while it is conceivable that those things could be done with less management, it is certainly not routinely obvious how to do it with no managers at all. Indeed, being able to do those things without managers is more like the kind of big surprising-but-possible innovation that can serve for the jumping off point for a classic SF story.

    I would say that the Internet is a good demonstration of something that developed much more organically than its rivals though practical, with considerably less hierarchical management than the incumbent old guard claims is necessary. (The IETF approach was a considerably less top-down impose-one-right-way than the old telephone network, and reputedly a lot less top down than the OSI-associated organizations too.) But that’s not zero. It’s like stealthing a ship against passive optical: sure, it’s plausible that you can often achieve a large reduction (in detection SNR, or in bureaucratic overhead and inflexibility) but even after the large reduction what’s left is so significant that bold conclusions (like the stealthed ship not being hit, or “why would we want to impose [managers]“) don’t necessarily follow the way they would if the admittedly-much-reduced value had actually been reduced to zero.

  145. “And it doesn’t mean that none of those guys ever made enemies.”

    Sure, and in those cases they either have bigger and better friends or they’re, so to speak, born connected.

    In my limited (actually not all _that_ limited) experience, the ones born connected are more likely to have the minimum essential moral courage. I am thinking here, expressly, of the Brooks brothers, though their Army Nurse Corps sister is said in some circles to be the best officer of the lot. But I don’t know here so I can’t say.

  146. “Tom you really believe that Gen Meyer had no lasting effect on the Army?”

    No significant lasting effect, no. If anybody did have a significant lasting effect it began ten years earlier, he was retired, and he wrote a book on training.

  147. “The bottom line is Romans beat Celts until Celts learn how to fight the Roman way with a bigger and better army.”

    I’m drawing a blank on when this ever happened in that sequence. The Celts had Brennus, 4th century or so, BC, IIRC, but after that it was the Romans gaining dominance over Celts which the Celts, qua Celts, never regained. No, I don’t think Celt spear fodder under a Carthaginian counts.

  148. “In Training for War, How much of Hamilton’s experience was autobiographical? Specifically the bit about the 2 privates && the Banglore torpedo, and the Egyptian tents?”

    There are a lot of reasons why I am reluctant to answer that. Modesty is not least among these.

  149. “Even in the U.S., officers are presumptively “gentlemen”, commissioned by act of Congress in a manner that recalls the issuance of patents of nobility and chivalric orders.”

    We stopped doing that a long time ago. I think it was in the 70s.

  150. “Sure, and in those cases they either have bigger and better friends or they’re, so to speak, born connected.

    In my limited (actually not all _that_ limited) experience, the ones born connected are more likely to have the minimum essential moral courage.”

    Well, there are good ring knockers and bad ring knockers…and if you’re from a service academy family there’s often a general or admiral somewhere in the family tree if distant. Then there are military dynasties like the McCains. Two Admirals, a Maj Gen, a Brig Gen and some guy on Gen. Washington’s staff. John McCain only made O6 and one of his kids is an O3.

    /shrug

    Everybody has friends and good friends will watch your back. There’s patronage but not nearly as bad as in most countries. That’s not a very high bar I’ll grant you.

  151. Well the obvious one is the creation of probably the biggest engineering endeavor in human history that is to say the Internet and its associated services. It developed organically with the light governance structures I described.

    Centralization actually has the same advantages in network design that it does in the design of human social and collective-effort organizations (companies, militaries, etc.): performance and reliability.

    http://highscalability.com/blog/2014/4/7/google-finds-centralized-control-distributed-data-architectu.html

    The cost is a SPOF and a single locus of control which may be politically untenable, but distributed architectures just can’t beat centralized ones for sustained, predictable performance. Back when Ma Bell was the nation’s telephone network, it achieved five nines of reliability — and no degradation in throughput. The deregulated telecommunications infrastructure of today is, by comparison, quite shoddy; and the various VOIP attempts are an absolute joke in comparison. No internet service can provide five nines of reliability nationwide.

  152. “Let’s learn the lesson of the Europeans in WWI. If countries have a big military force they will find a reason to use it.”

    That’s a bit of cart before the horse, Jess. It suggests that having a smaller set armed forces is of necessity better. Better said that if one country has a large military its neighbors either match it, or are conquered, or are so economically, culturally, industrially, and even genetically worthless, and tiny, and irrelevant that they’re safe the way an ant is sometimes safe.

    However, it was not large standing armies that were the paranoia inducing problem; the standing armies were fairly small, 600k or so, for Germany, IIRC, many of those conscripts on short terms of service before moving to the reserves. It was those reserve formations, and the advantage they potentially gave to the first country to order mobilization, plus the ability of railroads to deliver them to assembly areas and supply them there, that were the problem. And it was not a problem that could really be solved. If one continental country had a reserve system, all its neighbors and all _their_ neighbors had to copy it in self defense. Conversely, if they could have afforded having all those reservists as full timers (no, of course they couldn’t), then there would have been no commensurate weakness in being last to order mobilization; there’d have been no need to order mobilization.

  153. “’I’m drawing a blank on when this ever happened in that sequence. The Celts had Brennus, 4th century or so, BC, IIRC, but after that it was the Romans gaining dominance over Celts which the Celts, qua Celts, never regained. No, I don’t think Celt spear fodder under a Carthaginian counts.”

    Doh…I should have just said barbarians and been safe in ambiguity. No, the Celts never beat the Romans other than Brennus at Allia. I had a brain fart. I was thinking of Alaric, etc as having been in Roman service as foederati or half Germanic like Stilicho. You don’t beat Rome without being Roman (or Persian or Cathaginian but I digress).

  154. I dunno that I would classify the internet as the biggest engineering endeavor in human history.

    And certainly there is a huge hardware component to the internet in the form of cables, routers, etc. All that early work was done by DARPA and BBN and on the software/protocol side TCP/IP accepted as a DoD standard and incorporated into NSFNET as a standard. That wasn’t light governance but a hard rule. Compliance with NSF policies and interoperability rules was required. No compliance, no funding ($200M between ’86 and ’95) or access to federally supported circuits. That gave us the foundation for the commercial internet that replaced it.

    In any case, the majority of significant software projects were developed by government or commercial entities using the cathedral model. If what you assert is true then this wouldn’t be the case.

    I thought you would have picked Linux as the counter example. The Internet is a harder sell given the amount of money the USG sank into it. As I said there are few examples of organically grown large software and many examples of corporate and government managed large software.

  155. @nht
    > In any case, the majority of significant software projects were developed by government or commercial entities using the cathedral model.

    Most software for Microsoft Windows and iOS is closed source. Is that because closed source is the best way to develop software, or because the prevailing cultural models do it that way?

    I don’t think you can develop the F-22 exactly as is in an organic way, but that isn’t to say that something that meets the same need (or faces the actualy needs rather than the artificially defined needs) can’t be grown organically. Let’s face it, these military procurement projects are nightmares of poor execution, waste, overruns and rent seeking. See the discussion about the F35 above. It is a nightmare project.

    This hardly shows up the excellence of the behemoth management technique.

  156. Most software for Microsoft Windows and iOS is closed source. Is that because closed source is the best way to develop software, or because the prevailing cultural models do it that way?

    Closed source has proven itself better than open source for the types of software you’re talking about, and it’s not for lack of trying. Digital audio workstation (DAW) software is almost invariably proprietary and expensive. It’s expensive because professional musicians are willing to pony up. The single serious attempt at producing an open-source DAW (Ardour) is currently out of funding. Because no one is willing to pay the cow when they can get the milk for free.

    Contrast that with closed source, where the fact that you pay for the right to run a program makes you a customer of the software vendor, and their capability to put food on the table depends on your needs being satisfied. It’s a huge win for end users.

    Let’s face it, these military procurement projects are nightmares of poor execution, waste, overruns and rent seeking.

    Your counterexample — the internet — was a military procurement project.

    What libertarian hackers all too often fail to realize is that hacker culture is itself almost entirely a product of federal government defense funding; without government largesse, there would be no internet, no AI labs, no Lisp machines, no Silicon Valley, no hacker culture at all.

  157. >What libertarian hackers all too often fail to realize is that hacker culture is itself almost entirely a product of federal government defense funding; without government largesse, there would be no internet, no AI labs, no Lisp machines, no Silicon Valley, no hacker culture at all.

    As a historian of the hacker culture, I am in a position to say this is dead false.

    I was going to write a full reply here, but it’s a worthwhile topic for a blog post.

  158. The content of “the Internet and its associated services” evolved organically. I think that it is a wonderful example of how something huge and complex can evolve from something small and simple without top-down design beyond protocol standards.

  159. @Jeff Read
    > Closed source has proven itself better than open source for the types of software you’re talking about,

    No it hasn’t. I think that you are probably right for big mega expensive programs, but there is no reason why the many little utilities and other small programs (which constitute the majority of the tens of thousands of programs) need to be closed source. Even most beer free programs are closed source. Things are changing in that realm, but the culture from MS and Apple definitely set a standard that didn’t necessarily work at the small scale.

    Let me give you a specific example. UPS used to produce a program that allowed you to use your UPS account to print UPS labels for shipping. I did some work interfacing with it, where I had to export an address book from a corporate system into UPS to make it easy to ship packages to customers and other offices.

    The Address1 field allowed up to 255 characters in both systems, however, there was a bug in the importer that truncated that field from input CSV file to 32 characters. Consequently, they had to pay somebody to go in and artificially correct all the errors.

    If the UPS system (which they gave away to their customers) had been open source, I’d have fixed the import bug in about twenty minutes, and sent the fix back to them. However, it was a windows program, and the windows culture eschews sharing source even when there is no reason to keep it closed.

    My point here is that just because everyone does something (like highly structured, hierarchical mega management) does not mean at all that it is the best way to do it. The nature of the corporation encourages that business model for reasons entirely peripheral to the production of software products.

    > Because no one is willing to pay the cow when they can get the milk for free.

    Just on a related issue, one of the challenges with small start ups is the inability to raise funds due to really brain dead rules the the FEC has in place for angel investing. These sorts of rules are one of a whole rats nest of laws that gives grossly preferential treatment under the law to large corporations, which is the main reason we have so many large corporations despite the immense dead weight cost that comes with size.

    Even looking at Kickstarter, it is basically a big hack around the FEC rules.

    > Your counterexample — the internet — was a military procurement project.

    This is just such a misleading statement. The Internet of DARPA is nothing like what the Internet became after it was loosed the bonds of military mega management.

    > without government largesse, there would be no internet, no AI labs, no Lisp machines, no Silicon Valley, no hacker culture at all.

    And you say that because you are unfamiliar with the concept of opportunity cost?

    And just as a quibble, how exactly is taking money from one group, keeping some yourself, and giving some to someone else by any definition “largesse”.

  160. “Most software for Microsoft Windows and iOS is closed source. Is that because closed source is the best way to develop software, or because the prevailing cultural models do it that way?”

    Because it’s the best way to make a positive ROI in making software.

    The F35 was three airplanes glommed into one spec. It wasn’t the right move but that’s in hindsight. It could have been another F4 which was also flawed in ways but was a real workhorse of an airplane. The F35 may yet be the same.

  161. “This is just such a misleading statement. The Internet of DARPA is nothing like what the Internet became after it was loosed the bonds of military mega management.”

    And if it were not for DARPA and the NSF you’d be reading this on AOL.

    You do realize that what the internet became was the planned outcome by the NSF right?

    No probably not given you believe Apollo was a skunkworks project.

  162. “No it hasn’t. I think that you are probably right for big mega expensive programs, but there is no reason why the many little utilities and other small programs (which constitute the majority of the tens of thousands of programs) need to be closed source.”

    Wow…that’s a completely different position from:

    “In fact it almost goes without saying that top down structures are insanely wasteful. It is why Google, Microsoft and Apply buys companies. They are too big and bloated to actually do stuff themselves.”

    Yeah, Google, Apple and Microsoft ware too big and bloated to actually deliver any code. You know, like Android, OSX, Windows…

    “Even most beer free programs are closed source. Things are changing in that realm, but the culture from MS and Apple definitely set a standard that didn’t necessarily work at the small scale.”

    Because you don’t use the same techniques to build a dog house that you use to build a skyscraper doesn’t mean the standards and “culture” required to build skyscrapers is wrong or unnecessary.

    “Let me give you a specific example. UPS used to produce a program…

    If the UPS system (which they gave away to their customers) had been open source, I’d have fixed the import bug in about twenty minutes, and sent the fix back to them. However, it was a windows program, and the windows culture eschews sharing source even when there is no reason to keep it closed.”

    Not really anymore. There’s plenty of open source on codeplex. Less than linux. Probably more than OSX (ignoring unix stuff).

    That UPS didn’t do so has little to do with Windows.

    “My point here is that just because everyone does something (like highly structured, hierarchical mega management) does not mean at all that it is the best way to do it. The nature of the corporation encourages that business model for reasons entirely peripheral to the production of software products.”

    First, most small projects aren’t highly structured whether open or closed source. Most large projects ARE because they have to be whether it’s a “hierarchical mega management” or Linus being a “benign dictator”.

    The F35 software is 15M LOC and heading toward 24M LOC. It’s a big reason that the F35 is at risk and no, you can’t just organically grow that any more than you can organically grow a nuclear power plant. What the actual software quality or productivity for the program I don’t know but I can say that the F35 C++ coding standard* is the best such document I’ve ever seen.

    http://www.stroustrup.com/JSF-AV-rules.pdf

    Yeah, written by that Stroustrup.

    * for embedded code development. But given we do flight software for NASA missions it’s applicable.

  163. >Because [closed source] the best way to make a positive ROI in making software.

    That is often (though not always) true – but doesn’t mean it’s the best outcome for the users of the software, or for anyone at risk from a high defect rate.

  164. >That is often (though not always) true – but doesn’t mean it’s the best outcome for the users of the software, or for anyone at risk from a high defect rate

    It is the best outcome if the software would otherwise not be written or written only to scratch the developer’s personal itch. I’ve seen some rather dismissive FOSS developer comments to user needs/desires because the users aren’t paying them so they get what they get.

    Source matters wrt defects if you have the skill to fix the code or the money to pay someone to fix the code. I’d rather have code than not, but I’d much rather have a developer who is actively supporting the products I use because he can make a good living doing do.

  165. @Jeff Read
    “Contrast that with closed source, where the fact that you pay for the right to run a program makes you a customer of the software vendor, and their capability to put food on the table depends on your needs being satisfied. It’s a huge win for end users.”

    You forgot the sarcasm tags.

    In the unlikely case you are serious, you should advertise that company. I have yet to encounter such a proprietary application.

  166. >I’d much rather have a developer who is actively supporting the products I use because he can make a good living doing do.

    I’d much rather have a developer who is actively supporting the products I use because he cares about the problem.

  167. @nht
    “It is the best outcome if the software would otherwise not be written or written only to scratch the developer’s personal itch.”

    Strange, “scratch your itch” was the motivation for everything from TeX, to Linux, to Apache, to Python and R.

    But this has been discussed to death elsewhere (by our host, and others, e.g. Bruce Perens). Complexity is not a real problem, as some Open Source applications are among the most complex software available. Very specialized projects like the Apollo project of jet fighter software cannot be open source for the simple reason that nobody outside the venue has the hardware necessary to develop or even use the software.

    Software development and maintenance is costly and risky. By its nature the costs and risks of software development and maintenance can be shared very cheaply. Also, the marginal costs of copying and distributing software are near zero. Simple economic reasoning would lead to the conclusion that open source production would be the only viable option.

    In reality, software is a lemming* market with high prices for low quality products. The reasons can be listed as:

    1) Patents and copyrights block development of equivalent applications

    2) Software is fragile, leading to lock-in and incompatibilities

    3) Software is a lemon* market, users lack the information and knowledge to distinguish good from bad software and are very risk averse (FUD sensitive).
    http://web.stanford.edu/~jdlevin/Papers/Lemons.pdf

    4) Learning curves are steep in software (as a result of 1) leading to lock-in

    As a result, consumers pay very high prices (margins for Windows are over 80%) until an open source product gets a hold on the market. After that, the market tends to stays open source.

    *To describe the behavior of users knowledge under software information asymmetry I would suggest to call it a lemming market in the same way as in stock market behavior.

  168. The problem with open-source versions of specialized small-market applications like DAW is that OSS development needs large number of people who are both good developers (can program) and are users of said software (know the domain).

  169. @Jakub Narebski

    I’d add that the developers need to be typical users of the program; if the developers have a different use case or workflow from the typical user, then the program will become optimized for the developers’ workflow, and the problems encountered only by the non-programmer users will be ignored.

    Furthermore, this happens in not-so-small-market applications, too. E.g. the now 14-year-old bug 4914 in OpenOffice. For many many potential users who might otherwise switch from MS Office, it’s a complete deal-breaker; but for the developers and users of OpenOffice, it’s a trivial issue that may or may not get fixed someday.

  170. About the need for hierarchical organization structure for building big project: there was (in)famous “Linus doesn’t scale” issue when Linux kernel had grown very big. It was solved with better tools (distributed version control systems) and with hierarchical organization (lieutenants)… though it is still quite flat.

  171. I was going to write a full reply here, but it’s a worthwhile topic for a blog post.

    Thanks, I’ve been wanting a one-stop explanation of just how wrong this meme is (previous posts covered part of it but not enough), it will be useful when arguing with not-quite-fools.

  172. @deep lurker

    And of course GIMP. Folks don’t use GIMP because they are lemmings but because it doesn’t fit their workflow or have key features or simply are counter intuitive.

    What winter never gets is folks prefer free (see app store stats) but not when it’s a pain in the ass. Which is why Linux, OpenOffice and GIMP has no traction in the consumer market and Windows, MS Office and Photoshop do.

  173. “I’d much rather have a developer who is actively supporting the products I use because he cares about the problem.”

    He will always care more about paying his mortgage and feeding his kids.

    Best that he can care meet his own needs in addition to yours.

  174. @Nigel
    “What winter never gets is folks prefer free (see app store stats) but not when it’s a pain in the ass. Which is why Linux, OpenOffice and GIMP has no traction in the consumer market and Windows, MS Office and Photoshop do.”

    The consumers from this consumer market of yours are the poster child of information asymmetry (ie.e, ignorance and FUD).

    Of the large numbers of people I asked about it 9 out of 10 could repeat this line without any experience at all. They never had seen any of these programs in the wild but were convinced they could not use it. Often they did not even know what these software were used for (how many people cannot see the difference between Word and Windows?).

    When Linux runs on their Navigator, TV, router, or mobile phone, it seems to cause no problems. I also heard that if you tell your staff that OpenOffice is an upgrade to the newest version of MS Office, they have no problems with it. Having worked with several versions of MS Office and OpenOffice, I can see how that works.

    @Nigel
    “He will always care more about paying his mortgage and feeding his kids. ”

    Which means he will take my money and does not work for it. Fixing bugs costs money without income. Ever tried to get a bug fixed at MS or Adobe?

  175. “Thanks, I’ve been wanting a one-stop explanation of just how wrong this meme is (previous posts covered part of it but not enough), it will be useful when arguing with not-quite-fools.”

    Gotta love the attitude that everyone that disagrees with you worldview is at best a not-quite-fool.

    The fact is that government and military have been a huge contributor to computer science/technology without which we would not be where we are today. Another huge contributor advancement has been big companies like IBM and Microsoft.

    No internet as we know it is given since we can trace hundreds of million in direct USG investment into the internet.

    No NSF backbone. No oversea circuits funded by the USG for the internet. No cohesive national infrastructure but Balkanized individual commercial networks like AOL.

    Remove the billions spent in computer technology by the military in the 50-60s and you have huge fundamental gaps in the field from computer theory to computer mice. No Stanford research into advance computing concepts. No subsequent migration to xerox parc for these researchers.

    No AI labs without government grant money is pretty certain.

    No MIT AI lab in specific since it came out of the MIT RLE (from the military supported Rad Lab of WWII) and a $2M grant from DARPA.

    No DARPA and no SAGE for Ken Thompson to cut his teeth on and of course that $2M for the aforementioned Project Mac/AI lab he help found and developed LISP in. No DARPA IPTO funding for the Stanford AI Lab (SAIL) he founded either.

    No MISTRAM and there’s no GE team to build the GE-600 and no need to do Multics to replace GECOS. No Multics does bad things to our timeline as that’s the spark to do Unix and C. Bell labs is also itself smaller without military and NASA work. Maybe no Kernigan, Ritchie or Thompson working there.

    No Silicon Valley is debatable but that’s not quite hacker culture anyway.

    Hacker culture would still exist but much smaller. More like ham radio than the current FOSS world.

    No Bucks no Buck Rogers. No DARPA, DOD, NSF, NASA and all those combinations people, places and knowledge would not have happened because no one else would have paid for them to happen and computing would be significantly different.

  176. “The consumers from this consumer market of yours are the poster child of information asymmetry (ie.e, ignorance and FUD).”

    Yes, everyone that doesn’t share your worldview is clueless. Gotcha. It’s bit that these product work better but lusers just don’t get the awesomeness of FOSS.

    This attitude is exactly why FOSS is an abject failure when it’s used by non-geeks and Apple is a huge success.

  177. “When Linux runs on their Navigator, TV, router, or mobile phone, it seems to cause no problems”

    Because it’s not seen by the users at all and the application layer was developed by proprietary developers to meet user needs and not hacker needs.

  178. @Nigel
    “Yes, everyone that doesn’t share your worldview is clueless.”

    Where did you get that from?

    When I meet someone who tells me s/he cannot use Linux because it does not fit her/his needs that is OK.

    But when I ask on I discover 9 out of 10 times that the person has never in her/his life seen a Linux desktop let alone used it and has no idea that there is a difference between an OS and the programs you install (does not know what installing a program is). In such a case, I conclude that that person has insufficient information to decide whether or not Linux is for her/him.

    Hey, I even come across people who say they cannot use a Mac because they need MS Office.

    It is a lemming market because the only sane advice for a new user is to take the same system as his peers. Because in practice, 90% of the users depend on someone else for even basic computer maintenance (e.g., setting up WiFi).

  179. “When I meet someone who tells me s/he cannot use Linux because it does not fit her/his needs that is OK.

    Hey, I even come across people who say they cannot use a Mac because they need MS Office.”

    “I need MS Office” can be a valid reason not to use a Mac. Sure we HAVE MS Office and it’s around 98% compatible. Unless you need read receipts in Outlook or other features not present in MS Office 2011. We also lack visio, access and project. Sharepoint interoperability is so-so.

    And essentially there is no difference between the application and the OS to these users IF the OS in question cannot install the apps they need. This is true whether Linux, OSX, iOS, Android or Windows. They have more than sufficient information to know OSX or Linux is not for them if it doesn’t run application X that they want to use. Whether X is Office, Photoshop or Call of Duty is immaterial.

  180. @nht
    “They have more than sufficient information to know OSX or Linux is not for them if it doesn’t run application X that they want to use. ”

    Theoretically, this is true and it even sounds plausible. Until you ask these users and discover they really have no idea whether or not they need these incompatible features. And we are not talking Fortune 500 office networks, but home use for people who even at work do not do complicated things.

    This meme of “X is incompatible with Windows/Office/Outlook, therefore, I cannot use it” has been firmly planted in the minds of the users. That does not make it valid.

    And I see it around me. People who had used this same argument for years to block any discussion see a colleague who uses a Macbook and now want one. Suddenly, this “I can only use Windows” is not a point anymore and everybody switches to Macbooks.

    This whole argument about incompatibility is just an excuse for hiding a fear of computers. All the Windows users I discussed above were afraid of their Windows computer. They did not dare to touch anything beyond the daily routine and paid way to much for malware protection.

    None of the Mac or Linux users I have ever met were afraid of their computer (but they did fear Windows, I admit).

  181. Nigel, when telling the story of the vital DoD technical contribution to Internet networking and the backbone in particular, don’t you think it’d be worth mentioning that in the era of the old telephone legally-enforced monopoly, DoD having the political clout to be permitted to operate something like that was a pretty important advantage? You’re trying to use the story to prove that DoD’s technical contributions were uniquely important, and without mentioning that confounding factor of its political advantage, it’s not convincing. Then as now, telecoms is often a lobbying business at least as much as a technical business.

    Compare the outcome in a field which is technically related but which faces a very different level of regulatory barrier: high performance computing. Around the end of the Reagan administration (IIRC) the DoD was particularly interested in promoting progress in high performance computing. As far as I ever heard, they did made progress but their work was not terribly important compared to the ordinary rate of commercial progress. No one ever seems to choose that as a soundbite to illustrate vital government support of tech. They might be able to, though, if they had just had the good sense to legally forbid the commercial innovation (and the moxie to consistently tell the story without mentioning that it was forbidden)… So if your preferred example of vital DoD-ish intervention is one when ordinary commercial mechanisms of innovation are largely shut down by law, it is not quite as logically compelling as it could be. And backing off to a meta logic-about-politics level, it is even less compelling when there is a pattern of essentially everyone who chooses this story making the same omission. It’s a strange omission, too, from the supposed agenda of advancing tech progress: an ordinary reading of history suggests that questions about what is forbidden to ordinary commercial enterprise deserve serious attention.

    I have heard that it’s nearly legally impossible to open big box stores in Japan. If the current turmoil in the region somehow gives the Japanese defense establishment motive and enough political clout that it can break through those political obstacles and operate some kind of big box store, will that be convincing evidence that defense industry tech savvy and funding is key to developing big box stores?

  182. Which means he will take my money and does not work for it. Fixing bugs costs money without income. Ever tried to get a bug fixed at MS or Adobe?

    Ever try getting the MAJOR bugs fixed in GIMP? Bugs like “does not adequately support CMYK” or “no layer groups” or “no nondestructive editing”? These are MUST HAVES in any professional imaging workflow; any software which does not have these features is a complete non-starter. How long have the GIMP devs had to get on the stick? Ten years? And current stable versions still have nothing to show for it.

  183. @Jeff Read
    These “bugs” in the Gimp are major feature requests that might require considerable rewrites of the code. And then we did not even touch the USA patent and copyright minefields.

    In short, these are not “bugs” in a honest sense of the word.

    But it is an interesting question why there are no people stepping up to add these features to the Gimp? Is it legal? Or is there a dearth of people with enough know-how?

  184. >”Nigel, when telling the story of the vital DoD technical contribution to Internet networking and the backbone in particular, don’t you think it’d be worth mentioning that in the era of the old telephone legally-enforced monopoly, DoD having the political clout to be permitted to operate something like that was a pretty important advantage?”

    In AI? Nope. Operating Systems? Nope. Has nothing to do with Bell’s monopoly.

    For the Internet? Nope. DARPA did it with leased lines off the Bell backbone not putting new cables in the ground. Anyone is “permitted” to buy leased lines if they are willing to PAY for those lines.

    “You’re trying to use the story to prove that DoD’s technical contributions were uniquely important, and without mentioning that confounding factor of its political advantage, it’s not convincing. Then as now, telecoms is often a lobbying business at least as much as a technical business.”

    I’m trying to prove that DoD/USG MONEY was uniquely important. Without it nothing happens because who’s paying for it? Jeff’s point is that computing as we know it today is a result of massive DoD/USG spending.

    “Compare the outcome in a field which is technically related but which faces a very different level of regulatory barrier: high performance computing. Around the end of the Reagan administration (IIRC) the DoD was particularly interested in promoting progress in high performance computing. As far as I ever heard, they did made progress but their work was not terribly important compared to the ordinary rate of commercial progress.”

    Really? So HPCCI in the 1980s didn’t provide a foundation for HPC in the commercial world? They didn’t spend millions to purchase HPC machines for atmospheric modeling. Sandia ASCI Red wasn’t the first super computer to break 1 teraflop? The NSA didn’t bail out SGI to build the Cray SV2? The US Government didn’t keep pushing the boundaries of supercomputing with vector parallel machines like the SV2 vs commodity massive clusters? How many of the top HPC machines have been located at Sandia, Laurence Livermore, Oak Ridge and other government labs?

    Go look right now. Top machine is in China. The next two are at Oak Ridge and Laurence Livermore. #4 is the top Japanese machine. The US government owns 4 of the top 10 machines.

    Look at the historical top machines. National labs (whether ours or someone else’s) with a smattering of university machines.

    http://www.top500.org/featured/top-systems/

    Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

  185. “People are people and are always going to serve their best interests. ”

    Yes, they will, Jess, but “best interests” is a broader category of things than the merely material. Self respect, being able to look in the mirror to shave; those are “best interests,” too. I think you knew that, but it’s worth restating explicitly. We can do that because man is not a rational creature so much as a rationalizing, emotional, and instinctive one.

    “In the past the enlisted men have had their self interest tied to their unit’s interest by recruiting units from small local areas, ”

    There’s a problem with this, which is that an hour’s fighting can plunge a district into mourning and morally ruin it for a very long time.

    “If you advocate a purely meritorious structure in the military, you might consider the elimination of this old anachronism, that is to say the split between “officers” and “men”. The idea that a spotty faced moron fresh out of college commanding a unit with a sargent of twenty years hardened experience is really rather silly, notwithstanding the various ways and means in place to plug the hole.”

    It’s not an anachronism if it works. But I think you’re missing the three (at least three) points of why we’ve grown to do it this way. In the first place, the officer corps is still in good part about maintaining political control of the means of massive collective violence. It seems unlikely to me that this will _ever_ change or, if or when it does, the society that makes the change is going to find itself being run by colonels from outside the ruling class. This might well be no worse than being run by colonels from inside the ruling class, but it will be worse for the ex-ruling class.

    The other part, no less important, is bifurcated. We start people as officers young because as age comes, energy, initiative ad innovativeness flee. JFC Fuller has a list in the back of “Generalship: Its diseases and their cures.” Only one great general was great when past 70. Most peaked in their early 40s and then began to deteriorate. The other thing is that captains only matter somewhat, lieutenants not at all, but colonels DO matter. Yet the only way to get decent colonels is to select carefully and young, then train them, to include giving them much experience, for decades.

    Thirdly, the officer-NCO split is more than just legal. it is also a matter of instincts and attitudes, which are usually or entirely mutually exclusive. They are most unlikely to exist in the same man. What you’ll end up with if you try is neither one nor the other, and that in the absence of proof that much of anyone can be both. Israel? Tzahal? What do they prove when Arab armies aren’t worth the powder it takes to blow them away?

    If you ever decided to get into the ADCP-verse you’ll see a fair take on local militia, I think.

  186. Nigel, your claim that we wouldn’t have the internet without government spending strikes me as a rather untestable claim, at least, without a parallel universe where we could compare outcomes. Furthermore, this parallel universe would have to be able to factor out government’s abilities to create and protect monopolies, whether they be big (Ma Bell) or small (patents and copyrights). Indeed, I would go so far that the internet has been so successful in part by being determined, and even dogmatic, in avoiding patents for their core infrastructure and protocols.

    Years ago, I was taught that without the Tennessee Valley Authority, farmers would never have gotten electricity. Since then, I have come to realize that this isn’t true: electricity is important enough that farmers would have figured out something on their own. Would they have dammed up a river to do so? I don’t know, but then, this may not have been the best way to obtain electricity. Perhaps propane generators would have been better, or some other solution just beyond our imagination.

  187. Cathy on 2014-07-27 at 15:27:55 said: It saddens me that the sons of the elite no longer do military service. Post WWII may be the first time in American history where that was the case,

    Through most of U.S. history, the Army and Navy were small forces and relatively few men served, of any social class. I do note that pre-Civil War, there were a lot of part time state “militia” troops, who almost never saw combat, and often included socially elite young men. I also note that a lot of men were known by their military honorifics, including many you wouldn’t expect. (Actual 1804 headline: “General Hamilton Killed by Colonel Burr”.)

  188. “Nigel, your claim that we wouldn’t have the internet without government spending strikes me as a rather untestable claim, at least, without a parallel universe where we could compare outcomes. ”

    There are two claims:

    1). The internet we have today is a direct result of the hundreds of millions/billions. spent on its development. Jeff’s assertion that today’s hacker culture was enabled by government largess is provable just looking at who paid for the internet, AI and other research.

    Where would RMS have been a hacker if there was no Federally funded AI lab? That is one of many examples and the majority of computing advances hackerdom depends on individuals or small groups brought together through government grants or the technology spinoffs from government projects.

    This is provable since it is simply the historical record. It is up to ESR to prove otherwise.

    Which leads up to:

    2). No one has shown any other source of equivalent funding to drive technology in the same direction at the same pace.

    The US believed that the Soviets were an existential threat that required such huge investment to maintain technological superiority (or parity) in weaponry.

    There is no equivalent driving force for business to justify the massive capex required in both basic research and infrastructure.

    Hackers could not afford the equipment to hack without the government grants that paid for them at the universities.

    Private R&D is dominated by closed research in internal labs geared more toward applied research that can be patented and monetized.

  189. >This is provable since it is simply the historical record. It is up to ESR to prove otherwise.

    You’re confusing accident for essence. The historical record shows only that massive federal spending was sufficient; it does not show necessity. That would require a demonstration, or at least a convincing argument, that the Internet and the hacker culture could not have arisen in any other way.

    I think this claim would be false. I shall blog about my reasoning at some point. You might start by rereading World Without Web, which initially sounds like it supports your claim. Heh.

  190. You’re confusing accident for essence. The historical record shows only that massive federal spending was sufficient; it does not show necessity. That would require a demonstration, or at least a convincing argument, that the Internet and the hacker culture could not have arisen in any other way.

    I think this claim would be false. I shall blog about my reasoning at some point. You might start by rereading World Without Web, which initially sounds like it supports your claim. Heh.

    But that historical record shows that the existing hacker culture is one of many results of government largess. I wouldn’t say that the hacker culture would never exist but certainly would not in the form and size seen today…as I said, more like the ham radio subculture than the internet one.

    I just read World Without Web…I missed that one or it was before my time here. I don’t think I would have disagreed with your position then although I might have quibbled a bit regarding FidoNET. I don’t quite get your position now.

    If you want to show me how hackers get computers without government funding in the 50s and 60s to build some of the foundational components that hackerdom relied on later that would be a good first step.

    Who gives Englebart his start if the Air Force doesn’t fund him in 1959? Where does SRI the AN/FSQ-32 if not DARPA? Where do they get all the computers to do the Mother of All Demos if not NASA and DARPA?

    How do you replace all of this foundational research? Simply time shift 20 years later? But how do you even get to 20 years later and microprocessors without the intervening steps that are now missing?

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