Litmus Testing

As an armchair military theorist, I am not burdened by an obligation to tradition or entrenched interests. Similarly, I do not have an actual army to test ideas on with exercises or actual combat. And there’s always the temptation to think ourselves (as armchair theorists) better than the real staff officers of the world.

We may or may not be. But I think there’s something to be said about conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is conventional for a damn good reason. Just as cliches are cliches for a damn good reason too. In both cases an idea has survived repeated testing over time. We can conclude that it should be pretty good. Maybe not great, but certainly not bad.

So while the temptation to think we are the Basil Liddell Hart reincarnate, and that we somehow Know Better (TM) than every other military in the world is great, when we do we’re almost certainly being delusional. Avoid the temptation!

I’m often a conventional sort of guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Often, if you put a little effort into it, you can often come up with some of the same reasons real armies stay with the boring. Let’s look at a couple of our crazier ideas:

Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicles. This one is dangerous. Both the US and German armies had designs for heavy (about 62 tonne) IFVs in the early 90s. Both moved away from that plan, likely on cost and deployability grounds. So, much as I like this one (it’s even mine), it’s suspect on those grounds. Cost is annoying because it’s so hard to get a handle on cost at the best of times. Do note that the (US) Government Accountability Office study into the GCV and alternatives rated the Namer as considerably more expensive than the already costly Puma, to the point where even though you’d need more Pumas for a platoon, going with Pumas is the cheaper option.1

Fishbreath’s Ka-50. Yes, the Ka-50 is fun to fly in DCS. But the Russians haven’t been willing to put money into the single seat version, Kamov has made two-seat versions for the export market, and even those haven’t sold. So I strongly suspect that there are fundamental issues there, though I’m not enough of a helicopter expert to precisely identify them.

So there you have it. We’re not immune. We all think we’re brilliant. It’s totally fine to think outside the box, but do your homework. And be suspicious of ‘brilliant’ innovations that no one else has gone for.

As a side note, this is why I was so happy to hear these news updates. Time to see how some of my theories turn out in the real world.

1.) GAO reckoned that Pumas would cost $6.9 million and Namers would cost $11 million, and that each US Army mechanized platoon would require either four Namers or five Pumas. Personally, I’d go with three Namers or four Pumas, but either way, the fantastically expensive German IFV winds up cheaper, presuming the cost estimates are correct. Also note that the GCV was more expensive than either at $13.5 million, which probably bodes ill for the affordability of a heavy IFV, seeing as it needs weapons and fancy optics like the Puma and tons of armor like the Namer.

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