Quality and quantity


In modern materialistic society, where value of everything – including human life – is considered in monetary terms, many people see more complex and more expensive weapons as being automatically more capable than cheaper weapons, thus justifying the costs. Defense spending proponents argue that “nothing is too good for troops”, thus justifying procurement of ultraexpensive weapons. In reality, more expensive is not automatically better – if there is no discipline to specify what is important and stick to it, mounting requirements will start requiring very heavy trade-offs, thus compromising specifications in primary mission.

For example, battle rifle has to have powerful round capable of reaching long ranges, which also means lot of recoil; this means that bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles are best for that role. Assault rifle’s primary requirement is to put lots of rounds down the range quickly, enabling suppressive fire, which does not allow for powerful rounds. As infantry combat has, ever since World War I, usually happened at ranges of 100 meters and below, it can be seen that assault rifle, and not battle rifle, is best suited for standard infantry weapon, with bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles being relegated to special roles. Yet for person who does not understand reality of infantry combat, bolt-action rifles with their very long range may seem superior to assault rifles.

Thus only way to see what works and what not is to study combat data, over long period, and understand what makes an effective weapon. That is what I am going to do here.

Lanchester laws

While in ancient combat, where lines of soldiers fought, each unit of army that was outnumbered by factor of 2 had to be twice as effective as each unit of outnumbering army in order for it to break even (or, as more commonly said, force a stalemate), that does not hold true in modern combat.

Modern combat is a ranged affair, and individual units are highly mobile, and no not fight in relatively static formations. Result is that combat between units becomes several-on-one affair, unlike phalanx’ one-on-one affair, which automatically means that equation is different; no longer does army outnumbered by 2:1 have to have two times as effective units, but four times as effective. It is not always applicable, as ground combat (particularly infantry combat) still faces force-size-to-area constraints, so exponent is often adjusted to 1,5.

But while it would appear to give large advantage to quantity, there are times where numerically inferior force won over numerically superior one. These victories, however, could only very rarely to never be attributed to quality of weapons alone.

Quality versus quantity – a false dilemma

This lack of understanding among general populace, and even many military personnell, has led to definition of effectiveness as “how loaded with high technology this weapon is”. Hugely costly weapons are being justified under “troops deserve the best”, “we can’t win the war with inferior weapons”. But while at first look it would seem a reasonable assumption, reality is often that, when combined with above-mentioned lack of understanding of combat, it results in costlier weapons that are less effective than cheaper ones, both individually and as a system. Still, in some cases more effective weapon also is more costly and expensive; such is case with air-to-ground precision-guided munitions when compared to dumb munitions dropped from same altitude.

Quality vs quantity through history


Lot has been said about decline of the Roman Army in Third and Fourth century A.D. Impressive lorica segmentata – segmented armor – which according to some accounts was capable of stopping ballista arrows, got replaced by chain and scale armors, which could not even stop ordinary arrows. Scutum changed shape from square, curved shield to a round, flat shield more remiscent of Middle Ages, and Imperial Gallic helmet was also replaced by types more similar to Middle Age helmets in way of production if not look. But what were causes of that change, and what effect did it have on Roman military capability?

Causes were primarly strategic and economical in nature. Mounting barbarian pressure on borders increased number of troops required at the same time that economy suffered. Barbarians themselves, having often served in the Roman military in past centuries, took knowledge of Roman tactics home. They were also better equipped than before. All of this put strain on imperial logistics – thus replacement of lorica segmentata, which according to one docummentary had “more knots to tie than an evening dress” with hamata (chain armor or maille) and squamata (scale armor). Segmentata could seem to be easier to make and maintain at first impression, having far less parts than other two, but that is wrong. First, it had relatively small number of large, thick plates which required skilled workforce to produce. Bronze connections were no easier to make, and they caused problems with maintenance of armor. Hamata and squamata, while being made of far larger number of parts, were far easier to mass-produce with less educated workforce, being fairly simple in design. Hamata was also self-maintaining, as rust is rubbed off the armor just by wearing it.

Flat, round shield was also easier to make than square, curved one, but it was even more indicative of changes in tactics. No longer able to afford huge losses, Roman army used what was basically phalanx formation, with front ranks stopping the enemy and rear ranks showering enemy with missiles; this was combined by outflanking maneuver by cavalry, a tactic used by Macedonean phalanx. Still, well-trained and disciplined Roman armies often won against larger numbers of barbarians, despite latter often having equipment that was quality-wise, if not comparable, then at least close to what Romans had. End result is clearly in favor of personnell and command quality combined with personnell and material quantity. But in the end, despite Roman military itself remaining capable, huge military expenditures did their work and support structure collapsed, without Romans being any wiser initially – they only thought about it as a temporary setback. Cause of that was that, as their society, military and supporting structures became more complex in response to various crises, costs of maintaining them started exceeding benefits; at that point, Empire started draining more resources than producing them, and when reserves were drained, entire system collapsed. Same effect of forced simplification of system will later repeat itself in the Eastern Empire in 7th and 8th centuries AD, though with less politically catastrophic results. Complex system basically ate itself – it was less effective in adapting to problems while requiring more resources, simply because complexity itself caused friction, which caused additional resource depletion because of greater amount of resources required to maintain it. (Good article here.)


As it can be seen, after certain point increased complexity resulted in performance actually decreasing. Effect was magnified by number of health and climate problems – lead poisoning, droughts and similar – that hit at about the same time. Simpler society may have been able to adapt; but high complexity of late Roman society rendered it inert. Situation is same for any system, be it social or technological – more complex weapon may be more effective up to a point, but soon resources required to keep it in operation will start to increase faster than effectiveness which can justify expenses, as system enters area of diminished returns; and some time after that, increased complexity will cause it to enter area of negative returns, where increased complexity causes performance to fall. This effect can be clearly observed with modern aircraft, but more on that later.

Roman Republic suffered losses during Punic wars that were militarily far worse than any sustained by the Roman Empire, suffering 3 major military defeats in short order, and loosing around 130.000 troops in total. However, being able to raise large numbers of conscript – but still well-trained – troops as opposed to better-equipped and at least as well trained, but very expensive professional troops of the Empire meant that Republic was still able to withstand these losses and win, while fighting two-front war against Hannibal in Italy and his brother Hazdrubal in Spain. For comparision, Battle of Mursa, in which 54.000 soldiers were killed, had devastating consequences for Late Roman Empire. Important to note about Republic military is that all citizens eligible for military service had to participate in military exercises and maneuvers at set times; these were carried out at “Mars’s field”, named after Roman god of war (Mars, originally god of spring, later to become god of war under Greek influence). During later part of his operations in Italy, Hannibal was basically confined to southern part of pennisula, unable to attack Sicily and forced to constantly move because foraging parties weren’t allowed to go far away from main body, else they risk being destroyed by Roman patrols.

If we go further back, ancient Spartan military was full-blown “quality over quantity” example, since there never were many Spartiates avaliable. Spartan forces were most respected and feared in Greece, but they never went on long campaigns outside Pelopones, and relied a lot on allies, as they were needed to keep helots in check. When Thebe defeated Spartan army, Sparta was unable to replace losses, especially after Pelopida freed helots; result was permanent loss of Spartan power.

Earlier still, Greek phalanx consisting of hoplites brought an end to an era of individual duels fought by well-equipped aristocrats, thus causing early forms of democracy to be formed. Both greater number of fighters and their mutual support meant that “heroic” type of individual combat disappeared. Homeric phalanx itself was an imitation of an Assyric formation; expensive Mykenaian bronze armor was replaced by “inferior”, but cheaper, hoplite armor which by the time of Greco-Persian wars came to be made from leather, which was cheaper than bronze; this allowed larger number of well-equipped and well-trained fighters to be fielded. Macedonian phalanx itself, often seen as ultimate evolution of Greek phalanx, was a very capable formation. But it were not long spears (sarissa) which made it so capable, but rather the combined-arms approach which combined heavy and light infantry, archers and cavalry. Soldiers were also well-drilled, being able to deploy and redeploy quickly. Armor used by Macedonean phalanx was stiff linen-textile armor, with bronze and iron plate armor being used in small quantities. Nevertheless, cheap linothorax proved to provide acceptable protection.

Numbers weren’t always helpful, though. In Battle of Marathon, more numerous Persian army was annihilated by tactical genius of Miltiades. It did not help that Persians were prmarly relying on missile troops, which have not proven effective in face of well-equipped and well-drilled Athenian army. While Persians won the later Battle of Thermopylae, their fleet was defeated in Battle of Salamis, which meant that they were unable to supply their forces; effectively, Greeks forced them to fight the battle against the earth, one that Persians could not win. As a result, Persians had to pull most of their forces back to Persia, leaving behind a (relatively) minor force that was defeated in Battle of Plaetea. In fact, much of Persian force died of starvation and disease, never returning to Asia. It must be noted that in all three battles, Greeks managed to counter maneuver advantage given to Persians by their cavalry through clever use of terrain. In Battle of Plaetea, Persians had believed that Greeks were running away, and thus attacked from a disadvantageous position. Also, during Battle of Thermopylae, Greeks did not carry armor (though they did not fight almost-naked as 300 would have it; they did carry garment), instead relying on large shields, training and wall built previously by Phocians to carry the day, and keep Persians at bay until they had no choice to retreat. It would have happened, had not Persians managed to outflank defenders through the mountain pass; in the end, 2.000-strong Greek rearguard was annihilated while covering retreat of main army. In following Battle of Salamis, Greek fleet managed to draw large and unwieldy Persian ships into narrow pass of Salamis, outflanking and ultimately defeating them.

People in antiquity had ideas about superweapons, such as author of so-called (original title is lost) “Of matters of war”. Author, while aware that Roman Empire was in trouble, obviously did not understand real problems the Empire was facing, such as collapsing economy, depopulation and apathy; he, like everybody else, saw problems as temporary and incidental, not structural, in nature. So he proposed numerous wishful weapons. Similarity can be found in many later authors and even weapons designers and “strategists”, up to and including modern day; to them, answer to all problems is “more, more expensive weapons” and “more money”; yet it only serves to worsen, not solve, the problems in question. Rarely is question asked wether weapon in question could be replaced by better, cheaper one.

Middle Ages

While Western armies had knights whose charge could not be withstood by Ottoman heavy cavalry, Ottomans won almost all large battles. Reasons were better coordination between troops and larger numbers of troops, particularly infantry. In smaller engagements, Christians often won, as their system of command could cope with requirements of battle when smaller forces were used. But this did not really help, and Ottomans only took relatively small number of fortified cities in direct attacks. Reason was that Ottomans practiced strategy of raids, devastating countryside and forcing people living in it to move to safer areas. Without people around, fortified cities had to either be abandoned, or be supplied over long distances, rendering them vulnerable; this generally happened in depth of 50 kilometers from nominal borders. Ultimately, Christians adopted same tactics, especially in Croatia and Hungary; Croatian troops put lessons learned during 230 years of warfare with Ottomans in use during Thirty Year War, using tactics for which West proved mostly unprepared. In fact, during the war name “Croatian” was more often used as a designation of a type of cavalry specializing in irregular and “blitz” warfare than for nationality, as both numbers and ethnical composition of such (originally exclusively Croatian) units increased as their usefulness was realized. From that time also comes “kravata” (necktie, cravat), having developed from piece of cloth that Croatian soldiers tied around neck so as to have emergency bandage readily avaliable if wounded.

While Battle of Krbava Field is often cited as start of true troubles for Croatia, tactical successes against Ottomans were achieved both before and after it. Ottoman strategy however rendered these successes superfluous, as it meant that Ottomans were taking territory without having to win battles. It also meant that Western heavily-armed and -armored knights, despite being long regarded as most important part of the army, were strategically of minor importance despite their great tactical shock value (similar to modern tanks). Of far greater strategic value proved to be light, irregular and semi-regular raiders, such as hussar cavalry which appeared in Croatia and Hungary during 15th century, most likely as a response to Ottoman raiders, as well as predominantly infantry units of similar nature, which served both as raiders and as garrisons in fortified strongholds. (Hussar or huszar comes from Croatian word “gusar”, meaning “privateer” or “pirate”).

Tactically, when forced to face Western heavy cavalry in the field, Ottomans used mass of infantry to stop their charge. Once that was achieved, Ottoman cavalry would outflank and annihilate Western cavalry, with rout of often-underequipped and undertrained Western infantry to follow soon thereafter. John Hunyadi countered this by placing heavy infantry at center and heavy cavalry on flanks; both were supported by bow- and crossbow- -equipped infantry and cavalry, respectively. In order not to be outflanked, Ottomans had to send their own cavalry to flanks, where it would be annihilated by Western cavalry. But problem with idiotic commanders persisited: at Battle of Varna, Hunyadi was initially given command, and managed to get Ottomans into very disadvantaged position; given time he would have broken them. Yet King Vladislav, concerned more about glory than about saving kingdom (or his own head) mounted head-on attack on mass of Jannissaries. Result was that King was killed, and army broke apart – same scenario would repeat itself at Battle of Mohacs, where Ludovic II decided on a head-on attack against Ottomans without waiting for reinforcements from Croatia. Battle was ultimately decided by Ottoman numerical and command superiority and training superiority of Jannissaries.

Modernity up to 20th century

While muscettes would, at first glance, seem that they are more complex than longbow – which they are – situation is more complex than that. Early hand cannons of 14th century indeed did not replace bows as they were slow to reload and were not much more effective against armor. Later muscettes still suffered from similar problems. So why did longbow and crossbow get displaced?

In early modernity, we witness appearance of modern state and modern manufacturing in the West. This means that weapons could now be easily produced in large quantities even if relatively complex. Gunpowder weapons also got more effective, albeit bows were still superior in some aspects, such as superior rate of fire and effective range, especially against massed formations which still dominated the battlefield. Bows were also still cheaper, however they had number of important disadvantages.

First disadvantage is material one. Wood and string could get wet, and if that happened, bow was literally useless until it dried. Same happened to gunpowder, but it was easier to protect and would dry faster.

Second disadvantage is in their nature as weapons that require high physical strength from user. This meant that they required highly-trained users that would spend large amount of time doing nothing but training. In contrast, even with 18th century gunpowder weapons it took only several weeks at most for soldiers to become adequatly competent in using muscette, which meant that larger armies could be fielded and losses could be replaced faster, as long as weapons were avaliable – which, with industrial and logistical capabilities of new states was not exactly a problem.

Third disadvantage is logistical one. Rounds and gunpowder that came with them required less space for same amount of ammunition, and as mentioned were easier to store. This meant smaller supply trains, and smaller force required for their protection.

So while it may be hard to believe with now-avaliable gunpowder weapons, choice between arrow and gunpowder was quality vs quantity one, and quantity won.

In 18th century, battles were dominated by large, dense formations of soldiers firing at each other. Weapons were not precise – they did not need to be; battles were won by side that had best drilled soldiers who fired and reloaded their weapons fastest, and whose artillery was best coordinated with infantry. First to stop using such tactics were French revolutionary troops, achieving huge successes such as in one battle where Napoleon defeated three times larger army – more because of their lack of training than because of ingenuity; but when Napoleon later reverted to massive columns, it caused French casualties to skyrocket.

In 1588, Sir Francis Drake’s fleet of ships used superior agility of smaller warships to defeat larger, more heavily armed ships of Spanish Armada. While Spanish Armada was slightly more numerous in the beginning, it was skill of English crews which truly decided the battle. Unable to return the same way it came, or to link up with invasion force (which was likely just a play), Armada was forced to sail around Scotland, where it was caught in storm and devastated.

Spanish Conquistadors are sometimes used as an extreme example of quality trumping quantity. But this is not so: they worked by subterfuge and decapatitation, and ultimately amassed large numbers of local troops to help them. Very devastating weapon in their arsenal were European diseases, to which locals were rather susceptible.

Greatest military advance of 19th century is a conical bullet. Its precursor – Minie ball – was created by British Captain John Norton, and later perfected in 1849 by French army captains Claude-E’tienne Minie and Henri-Gustave Delvigne. This weapon demonstrated its effectiveness in Crimean war, and in 1866 Prussian military armed with breechloading weapons, including needle guns, completely outclassed Austria during Austro-Prussian war. It also massively increased lethality of defensive fire, but even 48 years later, Napoleonic war era tactics were still being used, resulting in massive casualties. Weapons disparity however was not the only reason for Austrian defeat: Austria was rather sluggish in mobilization and this allowed Prussia to attain strategic initiative.

World War I

In World War I, like at beginning of World War II, battleships were thought of as measure of naval power. But it also marked first combat use of modern submarine.

At beginning of war, Germany had 29 U-boats; in first ten weeks, they sank 5 british cruisers. In Dardanelles campaign of February 1915 – January 1916, 3 battleships were sunk by mines. U-21 sank two Allied pre-Dreadnough battleships (HMS Triumph on 25 May, HMS Majestic on 27 May), and remaining were unable to provide close support for troops due to danger from German submarines. Two more were damaged by mines but did not sink.

In Mediterannean, Otranto Barrage only ever caught two submarines, while in 1916 Allies lost 415 merchant ships. At beginning of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, Germany had only 105 submarines, later to increase to 120. In April 1917, Britain’s supply of wheat shrank to 6 weeks worth – German submarine blockade was proving as effective as British naval blockade, but at far lesser cost. Between 500.000 and 1.000.000 tons of shipping were sunk per month, and even when anti-submarine measures such as convoys were introduced, losses continued at rate of 300.000 to 500.000 tons per month for remainder of 1917. This was despite the fact that Germany failed to develop anti-convoy measures such as wolf packs. US were also forced to lay down massive mine barrage across all accesses into Atlantic; only 6 submarines were sunk by it.

In the end, 350 German submarines sank 12,85 million tons of shipping, at cost of 178 submarines lost. Five most successfull sank 1,72 million tons of shipping.

In Adriatic, Italian torpedo boats sank Austro-Hungarian pre-dreadnought Wien in 1917, and in 1918 dreadnought Szent Istvan. Wien was torpedoed while at anchor, and Szent Istvan was hit en route with full escort. Still later, dreadnought Viribus Unitis (then under jurisdiction of newly-formed State SHS) was sank by Italian diversants despite State SHS not being in war with Entente, so Italy could annex Croatian coast. Diversants managed to avoid all security measures and plant charges under the hull.

This clearly shows that cheap torpedo boats and submarines proved a great danger to capital ships, and far more effective weapon of war than expensive capital ships. But even among capital ships themselves, situation was strategically in favor of quantity: German High Seas Fleet had higher-quality ships and crews that were better trained in naval gunnery, and during Battle of Jutland it managed to inflict far higher losses on stronger Royal Navy force than it received (there were three main reasons for this: poor performance of British shells whose faulty detonators meant that they detonated on impact; this in turn meant that even thinnest armor was enough to prevent shell from penetrating. German shells, being equipped with reliable delayed fusing systems, did not suffer this deficiency. Secondly, Royal Navy crews ignored even most basic safety measures in order to increase rate of fire, which resulted in two battlecruiser losses that most likely would not have happened otherwise. Third reason was that German crews spent more time practicing with their range finding devices, and Germany had superior range-finding procedure, firing three shots at highest, lowest and most likely range to enemy ship; this system was superior to British “ladder” system which consisted of firing salvos at lowest likely range and then working up to actual range); however, battle was a strategic victory for Great Britain, as it was made clear that even if Germany did manage to keep advantageous exchange ratio, Royal Navy would win in a war of attrition. As a consequence, High Seas Fleet never sortied in force again, and Germany turned to unrestricted submarine warfare; this in turn brought about intervention of United States by affecting public opinion and allowing US politicians to push for war they wanted anyway.

Another reason for poor performance of Royal Navy, especially allowing German fleet to escape, was rigid system of control which caused lower-level officers to avoid acting without orders from the top; this was worsened by fleet standing orders which attempted to govern all actions by naval officers in all possible situations. Beatty, commander of battlecruiser squadron, left behind four fast battleships that were also part of his force, and failed to provide Jellicoe with updates on German fleet’s position.

World War II

Luftwaffe was, before and through World War II, dominated by heavy bomber advocates, as were RAF and USAAF. But despite each heavy bomber being 5 times as expensive as Ju-87, and 5 times more heavy bombers being produced than Stukas, they accomplished far less. Out of 114.000 aircraft produced, 25.000 were heavy bombers but only 4.900 were Stukas; heavy bombers received 26 times as much funding as Stukas did.

In Spanish Civil War, heavy bombers achieved nothing of value (except for providing Picasso with event to paint). During 1939 invasion of Poland, Stukas acted in close air support, attacking vehicles and ground troops, making movement problematic for Polish military units, with many not making it to their designated positions in time or at all due to Stuka harassment. Only thing heavy bombers achieved was destroying some cities. During bombing of Warsaw, Luftwaffe heavy bombers managed to hit some Heer units outside the city. They dropped 572 tons of bombs on Warsaw in effort to force city to surrender, but resistance still continued until ground troops captured three key forts on outskirts of the city. At the same time, outdated and outnumbered Polish fighter aircraft flown by well-trained pilots successfully engaged far faster, more modern, capable and numerous Me-109s. But with only 36 fighters deployed (out of total of 170; compare to 1180 fighters deployed by Luftwaffe), they were defeated through weight of numbers. Ability to operate aircraft outside known air fields prevented most Polish aircraft from being destroyed on the ground – only one of dispersal air fields was found and attacked by Luftwaffe, destroying 17 light bombers. Another problem for Polish Air Force were inadequate logistics, especially with regards to aircraft repair and maintenance. Sheer number of German aircraft caused confusion, as many Polish ground units assumed that any aircraft were hostile; ace fighter pilot Stanisaw Skalski wrote in his memoirs that “Everyone was shooting at us: Germans and Poles alike — the Poles often more accurately.” 7TP light tank was also superior to German Panzers, as were imported R35 and Vickers E tanks, but being incorrectly used and outnumbered, they did not have appreciable impact on fighting. With Stuka squadrons flying as many as 10 sorties per day per squadron, what modern tanks Poles did have was in great danger of destruction from the air.

During invasion of Norway, Luftwaffe coordinated with Heer on unit level. While Operation Weseruenberg was originally seen as unified command, with Falkenhorst commanding both Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe units, he ended up commanding only Heer units due to Luftwaffe (Goering’s) protests. As a result, actual coordination happened entirely on level of individual units. Stavanger was taken by dive-bomber attack followed by parachute assault. After that, reinforcements arrived by ship, with air reconnaissance allowing German ships to avoid Royal Navy. Level- and shallow dive- -bombing Ju-88s and He-111s, despite being less suitable for mission than Stukas (which lacked range required), damaged Rodney and achieved near hits on three cruisers. Despite Home Fleet shooting off 40% of 4-inch ammunition avaliable, only 4 Ju-88s were shot down. As a result, Admiral Forbes withdrew Home Fleet to the north, with only submarines being left in the south to deal with German ships.

In 1940 two-day campaign in Benelux countries, Luftwaffe suffered loss of 67 heavy bombers and 16 Stukas. When Germans built bridges to cross Meuse river, RAF heavy bombers failed to eliminate them, incurring 56% losses. Later at Dunkirk, Luftwaffe heavy bombers failed to eliminate both Allied troops and Allied ships. RAF lost 60 fighters destroyed and 120 damaged, whereas Luftwaffe lost 240 aircraft destroyed, mainly heavy bombers. Whereas RAF fighter pilot casualties were around 50%, bomber crew casualties were likely over 80% (a figure taken from Allied heavy bomber statistics). At the same time, destroyed were 6 destroyers and 230 smaller boats, plus 23 warships damaged. This was mainly achieved by dive bombers. It will continue through the war: no major warship was ever sunk by heavy bombers.

At beginning of Battle of Britain, RAF had 741 fighters (only 279 were Spitfires), against Luftwaffe’s 1.109 fighters (809 Me-109s), 1.134 heavy bombers and 316 Stukas. Battle began on July 1st 1940, with Stukas sinking 1 out of 3 British ships using the channel. As result, on July 27 British ships ceased to use the channel. Heavy, expensive bombers played no role in that success. In Phase II of the battle, heavy bombers failed to achieve the air superiority despite three months of bombing RAF bases. Between July and September 1940, Luftwaffe lost 621 heavy bombers and 88 Stukas. Losses were 12 heavy bombers and 1,3 Stukas per day (Stukas were out of battle for 3 weeks before end of September), despite Stukas flying 3 times as many sorties per day as heavy bombers. Once heavy bombers started attacking cities – despite RAF being at the verge of collapse by then – British morale and production both increased.

German focus on heavy, expensive bombers harmed its war effort. As Gen. Adolf Galland, commander of German day fighters said: “In the beginning of 1940 the monthly production figure for the ME-109 was approximately 125 … the peak was reached with a monthly production of 2,500…in autumn 1944. At the end of 1944, we had a fighter production about 20 times larger than it had been when the Luftwaffe entered the Battle of Britain. Had the fighter production reached in 1944 been reached in 1940, or even 1941, the Luftwaffe would never have lost air supremacy and the tide of the war would have taken an entirely different course. Neither technical reasons nor shortages of raw material prevented it. …It was the fundamental ideology of the German leadership with regard to aerial warfare according to Douhet [that] this was to be done by annihilating the enemy on the ground by surprise attack [with bombers]. …Fighters were only to be tolerated as a necessary evil, a concession to the unpopular act of defense.” From this statement, we can see several things: first, fighter and dive bomber production suffered due to bomber production to an extent that it caused Germany to lose air supremacy (while US did have far larger industrial capability, they were also wasting money on heavy bombers); second, German war production reached peak in autumn 1944, after year-and-half long massive strategic bombardment campaign against German production facilities. It were shortages of raw materials and oil (Ploesti oil fields were captured by Soviet troops in August 1944) which caused war production to drop in late 1944 and 1945, not bombing campaign. Heavy bombers used by Luftwaffe contributed to these shortages: as early as July 1941, bomber sorties had to be reduced due to fuel shortage. Yet only 300 Stukas were avaliable to cover entire Eastern Front, preventing Germans from exploiting numerous opportunities for destroying disorganized Soviet armored units and aircraft while in retreat.

Entire Stuka production run cost 25 million USD in then-year dollars, about cost of single battleship. In September 1941, Stuka pilot Lt. Hans Rudel sank Soviet battleship “Marat” – then in a harbor – with a delayed-fuze bomb which exploded in the magazine, justifying entire Stuka production run with a single sortie. In contrast, RAF heavy bombers made 8.000 sorties trying to sink German battlecruisers “Gneisenau” and “Scharnhorst”. Ships were not sunk, and Luftwaffe lost 17 fighters and 11 airmen defending them – compare that to RAF loss of 60 bombers and 345 airmen while trying to sink them. On the Eastern Front, two leading Stuka aces combined had around 800 confirmed tank kills. Two leading Tiger I aces had 329 confirmed kills combined. Yet Stuka production stopped in July 1944, and replacement – though developed and far more capable CAS aircraft – was never fielded in sufficient numbers (only 878 produced). When Allies started bombing Germany, Germans produced 12.000 heavy guns manned by 1,25 million men by 1944; these proved utterly ineffective. In contrast, smaller, cheaper 20 mm and 30 mm AA guns, often camouflaged near roads, caused many losses among Allied ground attack aircraft, and less than 400 fighters avaliable for defense of Reich in 1943 caused more than 20% losses on unescorted B-17 raids. V-2 missile was inaccurate, ineffective weapon even when compared to other “strategic bombardment” weapons – yet for 6.000 V-2s, Germany could have produced 24.000 Stukas or 48.000 tanks in addition to 4.900 Stukas and 28.000 tanks they did produce during the war.

It can be seen that production of heavy bombers and ballistic missiles instead of cheaper single-seat fighters and dive bombers cost Germany any possibility of success on the Eastern Front. Russians, on the other hand, produced 36.000 of deadly Shturmovik IL-2 close support fighters. Me-262, which was superior to any Allied fighter, was often shot down when taking off or landing. This was result of German High Command’s, and especially Hitler’s and Goering’s, focus on expensive wonder-weapons (wunderwaffe). There are also accounts that Hitler, aside from his love for wonderweapons, liked enormous battles (with proportionate casualties); if true, it would explain many of his more questionable decisions, and confirm him as the best general Allies had – a position already secured by his decisions about weapons procurement.

One of reasons for Luftwaffe’s successes despite mismanagement of resources was that Luftwaffe units were attacked to Heer at corps, not army, level. In practice, smaller Luftwaffe units could be attached to Heer units below corps level; Stuka pilots were trained in ground warfare tactics and lived alongside ground troops during both training and campaign. This radically cut down their reaction time and improved flexibility.

Allies would not learn from German mistakes. In 1942, RAF Bomber Command had no more than 500 heavy bombers at any single point – yet in the same year they managed to loose 1.404 heavy bombers. Between January 1943 and March 1944, 5.881 bombers were lost along with 20.000 – 30.000 crewmembers. Fortunately for Allies (and especially Allied bomber crews), after March 30, 1944 Operation Overlord took priority, and bomber losses dropped sharply; total loss of heavy bomber crews in 4 years of bombing would end up to be 70.000.

In North Africa, strategic-bombing-focused USAF failed to provide any appreciable help to ground troops. Rommel’s defeat was mainly result of 21 outdated RAF Swordfish torpedo bombers sinking four Italian battleships guarding the Mediterannean supply lines, as well as German failure to prevent aircraft, submarines and ships based on Malta from attacking supply convoys. Despite Axis aircraft dropping over 7.000 tons of bombs on island, Malta persisted. In attack on island Pantelleria, Allied bombers flew 7.000 sorties, dropping 5.600 tons of bombs – Italians only surrendered when 600-ship invasion force appeared. Less than 5% of bombs came to within 100 meters of their targets.

Rail transport in France was almost stopped by air power: while heavy bombers failed to as much as slow it down, P-47s destroying valuable locomotives and anything that moved on railroads had huge effects.

As for US European operations, expensive P-38 and P-47 failed as dogfighters, though P-47 proved excellent in CAS and battlefield interdiction missions. P-51, small, light and cheap dogfighter (51.000 USD vs P-38s 125.000 USD), proved to be best air superiority aircraft avaliable to US, and over 15.000 were produced – most of them with Merlin engine. It had better cruise and top speed, better dive acceleration and better roll performance than either Me-109 or FW-190; its turn performance was superior to Me-109 but inferior to FW-190. When flying against FW-190, pilots compensated by avoiding protracted turning maneuvers and relying instead on P-51s superior roll rate. It also had longest range of all Allied fighters, and was only one capable of escorting bombers, which acted as a bait to draw out German fighters so P-51s can shoot them down. By September 1944, despite receiving 3.000 new fighters per month, Luftwaffe was only receiving 1.000 new pilots per month, and losses to P-51s were huge. Me-262 did not change equation: many were shot down by Allied patrols over the air fields, or by superior numbers of Allied fighters when they slowed down to attack bombers. They shot down around 150 Allied aircraft, and 100 were destroyed in aerial combat – maybe 75 by fighters.

During night raids, German night fighters – despite lacking onboard radar until late 1943 – extracted heavy toll on Allied bombers, being vectored in by ground radars. By March 1943, 350 night fighters were equipped with radar. After that, British night bomber losses increased to beyond 6% per raid.

US heavy bombers proved utterly ineffective at destroying German fortifications overlooking Omaha beach despite throwing thousand of tons of bombs. 1.500 P-47s had more success – 23 German divisions trying to reach landing site were mauled and delayed by as much as 6 weeks, averting a potential rout of huge proportions. During the war, average US heavy bomber loss rate was 4,5%, compared to less than 1% for fighters. Only thing heavy bombers did manage to do was to lure German fighters to sky to be destroyed – but dive bombers could have done the same thing. Strategic bombing did not force a decision: Japan only surrendered after USSR offensive obliterated 32% of Japan’s ground forces and US Navy and Air Force destroyed majority of what few ships it had remaining by the time Okinawa fell. Despite heavy bombers bombing Japan for 3 months, they failed to eliminate any of assigned high-value targets. Due to that, incidientary bombing was commenced – killing 100.000 people in Tokyo alone. It did not force Japan to surrender. Even after first atomic bomb was dropped, Japanese generals were against surrender.

Situation was similar with tanks. In fact, general Guderian considered Panzer IV G, H and J models a superior choice to heavy Panther and Tiger tanks – Panzer IV was cheaper, more reliable and used lesser quantities of scarce fuel; it was also strategically more mobile, as many bridges were unable to carry Tiger’s excessive weight. Guderian was unable to cancel their production in favor of Pnazer IV, however, as both tanks were favorites of Hitler, who was obsessed with superweapons. (Note: Ausf F2 designation which is sometimes used was not official designation; these were in fact early G model tanks, but had turret which, although mounted with long-barrel 7,5 cm gun, was more remiscent of Ausf F model rather than boxy turret of later models). In fact, for single Tiger, two Panthers or 4 Panzer IVs could have been produced, as not only Panzer IV was cheaper but could have been produced on cheaper machines and by less skilled workforce; estimates put losses in Panzer IV production due to unreliable Panther being produced prematurely as 1.000 – 2.000. Panzer IVs 7,5 cm cannon also had superior penetration characteristics to Soviet 76,2 mm cannon, and Panzer IV Ausf. J, in addition to being least complex Panzer IV variant, had operational range that was 28% greater than Panther’s and and 64-191% greater than Tiger I’s on road. Panther itself was actually better than Tiger, having higher-velocity cannon and better range, as well as being lighter, faster, more maneuverable, and (in latter versions at least) more reliable. Tiger’s weight also meant that very wide (over 70 cm) tracks were needed for it to have acceptable ground pressure when off-road; but these rendered tank too wide for rail transport, which meant that outer wheels had to be removed and narrower tracks fitted for tank to fit within width constraints required for rail transport. Overlapping roadwheels could also get frozen or stuck with mud.

During attack on France, Germany was outnumbered in tanks, and all German tanks were technologically inferior to French Char B and British Matilda tanks. German tanks however were fast and easy to maintain; once German armored units achieved strategic surprise by going through Ardennes forrest, thought to be untraversable by tanks, there was nothing Allies could do to stop them from rampaging through rear. Most importantly, Germans had superior personnell: Guderian and Rommel constantly ignored orders by High Command, and in Rommel’s case it was not unusual for both Allies and German High Command to completely loose track of where his forces were. Both of these facts allowed Germans to operate at tempo so fast that Allied command could not cope with it, breaking its OODA loop and causing panic. Guderian and Rommel used their inferior tanks to full effect, wreaking havoc behind frontline, cutting off supply lines, destroying headquarters and taking French staff prisoners, leaving their units headless and withering on the wine.

taintercomplexity - WW2 tanks

On the Eastern front, after 1942 Soviet tanks often slipped through overextended German lines and attacked supply lines, showing that they have learned lessons of Blitzkrieg well. But excellent tactical performance of German tanks continued: at Battle of Prokhorovka, despite having only 109 AFVs (of which 4 Tigers, 42 Panzer IV, 20 Marder III and 20 StuG III, as well as Panzer I and IIs (18 present) which, while inferior to T-34 and Su-122, were comparable to 142 T-70s) against 353 Soviet tanks, Germans lost 7 AFVs destroyed and 25 damaged, compared to 134 Soviet AFVs destroyed and 125 damaged. 144 of Soviet tanks fielded were T-34s, which were superior in combat to anything Germans fielded with exception of Tigers. But battle of Kursk itself was won – and lost – by infantry.

Still this excellent performance was not enough. Despite regularly causing disproportionate losses to Soviet tank units – which was more due to personnell superiority than to mechanical superiority of tanks, as evidenced on numerous occasions when elite crews in Panther and Tiger I tanks defeated superior numbers of technically superior Joseph Stalin II tanks – Panther and Tiger units were too few to change anything. Few tanks avaliable were constantly in combat, and this, when coupled with already less than good mechanical reliability of these tanks, meant that by mid-1944 more Panther and Tiger tanks were undergoing repairs and maintenance than were avaliable for combat duties. On more than one occasion, tanks that were ready for transport to repair yards were blown up and abandoned when the Soviets overran railway stations and collection points. Recovering Tiger I tanks was exceedingly difficult due to their large weight: very often three or more were required to tow single Tiger, and it was not unusual for Tigers to tow damaged comrades out of battle (effectivelly, two kills with a single stone).

T-34 is held by military historians to be best tank of World War II. That is not without reason: it was crudely designed, which made it easy to produce in large quantities and easy to maintain. Sloppy tolerances meant that even when German tanks became frozen in mud or ice, T-34 kept rolling. Its wide tracks allowed it to move over very heavy terrains, be it mud or swamp, and its sloped armor meant that short cannon of original Panzer IV was incapable of penetrating it, whereas T-34 itself was equipped with high-velocity 76,2 and later 85 mm cannon. Even in one-on-one slugfest comparision it was superior to all German tanks save for Panther and Tiger. Yet despite its undeniable superiority to German tanks avaliable for Operation Barbarossa, and the fact that over 3.000 were avaliable in late 1941, it did not have much impact early in fighting: reasons were wrong tactical employment, which had T-34s being employed individually and often without infantry cover, resulting in them being destroyed by engineers; German air superiority, which meant that Stukas (operating closely with ground forces) were often avaliable to blow them up; undertrained crews; lack of recovery vehicles avaliable to recover damaged tanks; speed of German advance; lack of coordination between tanks due to few radios avaliable; gunner that was also tank commander. As a result, 2.300 T-34s and 900 KVIs were lost in 1941. Even later, German crew superiority meant that Panzer IV F2 and later models at least enjoyed exchange superiority in combat against T-34 tanks. In 1942, 6.600 T-34s were lost, as well as 1.200 KV tanks. Despite only German weapon capable of destroying T-34 at long range from June 1941 to September 1942 being 8.8 cm Flak 36, 3/4 of T-34s were destroyed by standard issue 5 cm cannons. In 1943, Panther appeared (Tiger was in service from late 1942), and Germans still achieved 3:1 kill ratio in tracked AFVs, destroying 23.500 Soviet AFVs, including 14.700 T-34, 1.300 heavy tanks, and 6.400 light tanks. In 1944, despite deploying T-34/85, IS-2 heavy tanks, ISU-122 and ISU-152 assault guns, Soviets lost 23.700 tracked AFVs, of which 2.200 were light tanks, and 58% losses were T-34s. So why was it credited with winning a war? Aside from being reliable, which meant that T-34s could easily penetrate deep behind German lines and cut off supply lines, destroy depos and generally wreak havoc, it was very simple, which allowed Soviets to produce a total of 64.549 T-34s, with total output of tracked AFVs being 109.815 fully tracked AFVs, plus 11.900 being received via Lend Lease. Germany produced 27.769 tanks (including 612 command tanks and 232 flame tanks), as well as 10.550 assault guns, 7.831 tank destroyers, and 3.738 assault and SPA AFVs, for a total of 49.888 fully tracked AFVs. At the other side of the ocean, United States produced 49.234 M1 Shermans and 10.613 M-10, M-18 and M-36 tank destroyers.

Tank destroyers were very effective weapon in both German and Allied arsenal. German ones were Panzerjager I, Marder II, Marder III and IV, based on Panzer I-IV chassis, Stug-III, based on Panzer III chassis, heavier Jagdpanther and Jagdtiger, based on Panther and Tiger I chassis, Nashorn and Elephant. Unlike relatively multipurpose tanks, these were designed solely to destroy armored vehicles. Panzerjager I was ineffective due to design that limited visibility, high silhouette and relatively weak gun which, while very precise, lacked necessary punch to penetrate armor of tanks such as T-34 at combat range; situation was somewhat better when using tungsten ammo. Marder I, II and III were cheap, very reliable and packed a large punch. Marder I was converted from French Lorraine artillery tractors, FCM36 light tanks and Hotchkiss H-39 light tanks. They were armed with 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 L/46 anti-tank gun. While their open top made them vulnerable to indirect fire and infantry ambushes, it also allowed for excellent visibility which made it easy to spot enemy tanks and maneuver into position (German tanks commanders, especially those in Tigers, preferred to watch out of open hatch for that reason despite danger for themselves). Marder II was based on Panzer II chassis. 576 Marder IIs were produced, and another 75 converted from existing tanks. Marder III was based on Pzkfw 38(t). 1562 were produced, and another 194 converted from existing tanks. All versions of Marder II and III proved very effective against enemy tanks and other armored vehicles; Marder III in particular was very effective against Matilda tanks in North Africa, and was thought by British forces to be a self-propelled version of Flak 8.8 cm gun.

StuG-III, while intended as assault gun, was widely implemented as a tank destroyer. In that role, its low silhouette made it easy to camouflage and difficult to find, and by 1944 StuGs have destroyed 20.000 enemy tanks. They were also cheaper and faster to produce than tanks: while Panzer III cost 103.200 RM, StuG III cost 82.500 RM. For comparision, Panzer IV cost 103.500 RM, Panther 117.000 Rm and Tiger I 250.000 Rm (250.000 Rm is ~1.300.000 USD when adjusted for inflation).

Nashorn, while having thin armor and high silhouette, had very good cannon, was relatively light and very mobile. Its tungsten-carbide round could penetrate 190 mm or RHA at 30 degree angle of impact at 1.000 meters, making Nashorn capable of penetrating most or all Soviet tanks at standard combat distances (500-1.000 meters); when combined with excellent mobility, it made Nashorn very dangerous opponent to enemy tanks.

US tank destroyers likewise proved very effective against German tanks. M-10 suffered from very slow turret traverse speed, but this was not as important as it may sound due to vehicle itself being very mobile (German tank destroyers did not have turret). M-36, a M-10 follow-up, mounted better cannon and turret. Standard tactics for both tank destroyers were to exploit Panther’s and Tiger’s slow turret rotation speed and hit them from sides, even though M-36 was capable of destroying both even from front at relatively long distances, and some units achieved kill:loss ratios against German heavy tanks that were remiscent of what these same tanks achieved against Russian tanks. At maximum speed of just under 100 kph, M-18 Hellcat tank destroyer is actually faster than any modern MBT, which served them well in combat.

Germans also deployed U-boats. Unlike in World War I, these only hunted large prey – it was beyond them to attack small fishing vessels. From September 1939 to December 1941, 1020 ships were sunk by submarines for 66 submarines lost. Ships sunk included an aircraft carrier and a battleship. During entire war, 1.154 German submarines sank 3,500 merchant vessels totaling 14 million tons of shipping, around 70% of all shipping lost, at cost of 757 submarines. Five most successfull sank 1,72 million tons of shipping. Further 175 warships were sank, including 9 capital ships. If Germany had enough dive bombers or surface units to force convoys to disperse, these attacks would have been far more damaging, at far lower cost; and had German submarines received snorkels earlier, US would not have been able to transport ground troops to Great Britain. Type XXI submarine had 6 torpedo tubes in the bow, which could be reloaded faster than Type VIIC could reload a single tube thanks to hydraulic reload system; this allowed it ability to fire 18 torpedoes in under 20 minutes, and it could travel submerged at 5 knots for 2 or 3 days before having to recharge batteries – this took 5 hours with snorkel. Its sprint speed when submerged was faster than its surface speed, and it had submerged range of 550 kilometers – 25.000 when surfaced. A fleet of these submarines broke through Greenland-Iceland-UK gap in 1945, annihilating fleet of ASW boats awaiting them. They were cheap too: while Tirpitz cost 181,6 million Rm fully outfitted, and had a crew of 2.608, Type VII C cost 4,8 million Rm and had a crew of 52. On October 14, 1939 U-47 crept into Scapa Flow and sank old battleship HMS Royal Oak, with loss of 833 out of 1.200 crewmembers; luckily for British, more modern units were not present as they left port on 8th October, with battleships sailling to Loch Ewe rather than returning to Scapa Flow after unsuccessful sortie (goal of sortie was to catch Gneisenau, Koln and their destroyer escorts). Reason for British decision was low-level Luftwaffe reconnaissance flight on October 12, which British (correctly) interpreted as a prelude to air attack. U-47s attack, while very successfull on its own, was even more successfull in proving to Hitler damage that could be done by U-boats. British did not leave favor unreturned: in September 1943, UK midget submarines placed four two-ton charges under Tirpitz’s hull, crippling it for six months.

US submarines also performed well. In Pacific, US submarines (operating under rules of unrestricted submarine warfare) sank 1.314 merchant ships totalling 5.320.094 tons, thus starving Japanese industry and military of badly-needed supplies, and 201 naval ships totalling 540.192 tons. These included 4 fleet carriers, 1 battleship, 4 light carriers, 3 heavy and 8 light cruisers, 43 destroyers and 23 submarines. Ships sank by submarines accounted for 48% of all Japanese ships sank, and 55% in tonnage – submarines accounted for more Japanese aircraft carriers than air power did. 201 submarines were built during the war, adding to 87 already present. At the same time, one British battleship, one battlecruiser and one aircraft carrier, two Japanese super-battleships and several other capital ships, and several US capital ships were sunk by air power or combination of air power and submarine attacks (such as USS Yorktown, which was disabled by dive bombers and then sunk by submarine, I-56). In January 1943, USS Wahoo sneaked into Wewak harbor, sank a destroyer and left; next day, it sank entire four-ship convoy headed for the harbor. Yet despite these successes, US submarines never composed more than 2% of the fleet in cost and personnell terms. It should be noted that, when COs of submarines left the boat, scores went with them, not with crew left behind: most successfull 15% COs accounted for more than half ships sunk, and submarines under their command were three times as likely to return safely from patrol than submarines under remaining 85%.

During Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one of five midget submarines managed to penetrate torpedo nets and launch two torpedoes at battleships Oklahoma and West Virginia; Oklahoma capsized.

Despite myth about carrier supremacy, it were submarines and land-based aircraft deployed at island air bases that were decisive in US victory against Japan. In fact, ground-based aircraft sank 688 ships totalling 1.592.482 tons, and carrier-based aircraft sank 520 ships totalling 2.101.477 tons, far less than submarines did. USS Ranger in Atlantic, meanwhile, was busy launching Army aircraft from its flight deck, such as P-38, P-40 and P-47. Primary value of aircraft carriers is performing air superiority and close air support missions, as former DoD director of air warfare Chuck Myers wrote. But even more important was escort of convoys and anti-submarine warfare (Japan never built any submarine as advanced as Type XXI), yet President Roosevelt had to order US Navy to convert merchant ships to escort carriers. Japan and Germany never took advantage of deficiencies of submarines used during the war, and thus failed to build up ASW capabilities, such as escort carriers.

In short, had Germany produced reliable and relatively cheap weapons instead of “superior” imagination-catching but unreliable and complex weapons, it would have had greater numbers of more useful weapons on its disposal; instead of 25.000 useless heavy bombers and 6.000 equally useless V-2 rockets, as well as 5.987 Panther, 1.347 Tiger I, and 492 Tiger II tanks, Germany could have produced 125.000 additional single-seat fighters and dive bombers, as well as 68.000 additional Panzer IV tanks (in addition to cca 7.000 long cannon Panzer IVs produced), or 100.000 additional single-seat fighters and dive bombers and 118.000 additional Panzer IV tanks. Even if these numbers are cut into one-half, or to one-quarter (to compensate for maintenance and fuelling costs), they would still have meant massive increase in Wehrmacht’s military effectiveness. Situation was similar for infantry weapons: while MG-34 and MG-42 were highly effective weapons, they harmed German warfighting capability by delaying introduction of new semi-automatic and assault rifles – in their case, choice was doctrinal and bureocratic, but no less harmful for that. It should be noted that MG-42 is simpler, more reliable than MG-34, and also has higher rate of fire but is less accurate.

Key to German early successes was personnell and organizational superiority over its opponents: whereas Allies had highly centralized command, and uncoordinated services, Germany had built Blitzkrieg on close cooperation between various components of armed forces; best example of this is invasion of Norway, where despite bickering of questionably competent Reichs Marshall Goering, which led to lack of unified command structure, Luftwaffe closely cooperated with Heer and Kriegsmarine.

Korean war

150 B-29s flew 1.000 sorties in 3 years, accomplishing nothing and loosing 107 aircraft. For the same cost, 1.200 P-47 could have been used, preventing a rout of UN forces by Chinese. B-29s proved useless in both strategic bombing, close air support, and deep interdiction roles. In May 1952, electric plants were added to target list. Air Force stated that, with heavy bombers, it would need 29 days to shut down 50% of electricity production capability; in 4 days, 5th Fighter Command – with no help from Strategic Bombing Command (fortunately) managed to shut down 90% of electric power plants.

500 Korean MiG-15s failed to defeat 90 US F-86s. Later, 1,300 MiG-15s also failed to defeat 200 F-86. Main reason for that was USAFs pilot superiority, and secondary reason was F-86s advantage in roll and pitch rates due to then-new hydraulic control system; other parameters were similar. This allowed F-86 to transit quickly between maneuvers, and F-86 achieved 10:1 exchange rate against MiG-15s, though against experienced Russian pilots it was closer to 1:1. 4,8% of pilots achieved 48,6% of kills. Both F-86 and MiG-15 have been known to survive heavy damage, and experienced F-86 pilots went back to US to train new pilots.

Korean war has also shown that exchange ratio decreases as total number of aircraft in the air increases. Further, larger formations have worse exchange ratios compared to smaller ones: thus fighters should not fly in squadrons (12 fighters per squadron) or flights (4 fighters) but in pairs. Aside from improving flexibility and increasing number of formations avaliable, it allows for covering more ground, better mutual support between formations and better ability to concentrate rapidly if needed; conclusion is thus that advantage of quantity over quality holds true not only for weapons but also for organization.

Vietnam war era

In Vietnam, US used F-105 nuclear bombers, F-4 bomber interceptors and F-100 fighters in air superiority and strategic bombing roles. Against MiG-21, these were hopeless: NVAF MiG-21s shot down 320 US aircraft, including 110 F-4s, for a loss of 54 MiG-21s. F-104 and F-105 performed about as well as F-4, though kill:loss ratio improved after Red Flag and Top Gun courses were established. From 23 August 1967 to 5 February 1968, MiG-21 pilots racked up 16:1 kill advantage. It should be noted that F-104 and F-105 often flew as bombers, with F-4s providing escort. When B-52 was sent to bombard North Vietnam cities, 15 were lost in 724 sorties. But in South Vietnam, 1944-designed A-1 propeller attack aircraft carried out effective Close Air Support.

Two missiles were used: AIM-9D WVR IR missile and AIM-7D/E BVR radar-guided missile. AIM-9D cost 14.000 USD, far less than 44.000 USD that was paid for AIM-7 (not inflation-adjusted), yet it performed far better: despite both missiles being used primarly from visual range, AIM-9 had Pk of 15% as opposed to 8% for AIM-7. All AIM-7 models had multi-target centroid problem – homing at point between two fighters that were close enough.

Strategic bombing of North Vietnamese cities proved useless, despite 3 times larger tonnage than what was dropped on Germany, and even when redirected to battlefield interdiction, heavy bombers and fast jets achieved very little. But cheap, rugged turboprop A-1 proved far more valuable, preventing many US outposts and units from being overrun.

On infantry side of things, there were two candidates for US rifle: $75 AR-15 and $295 M-14. M-14 was a battle rifle, long-ranged semi-automatic derivative of M1 Garand, whereas AR-15 was new design of assault rifle. M-14 proved virtually useless due to its weight and slow rate of fire, so US military was forced to deliver AR-15 for field testing. It performed outstandingly, being lighter, more reliable and more accurate, and soldiers requested its delivery in larger numbers. But what they got instead was heavier, more complex, “more capable”, “militarized” (that is, more expensive) M-16 which was outperformed by cheap, rugged, reliable AK-47, itself influenced by German StG-44, world’s first true assault rifle.

During Arab-Israeli wars of 1963 and 1973, huge pilot quality advantage of Israelis secured them exchange ratio of 20:1. Israeli pilots preferred Mirage III, referring to F-4 as B-4; reason stated was Mirage’s smaller size and better agility. Two-thirds of kills were by guns or by guns supported by IR missile launches in order to force a hard break, and general Hod stated later than on-board radar was “essentially useless”.

In Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, Pakistani Air Force had 96 Mark VI Sabres equipped with Sidewinders, plus 75 Mirage IIIs, F-104s and MiG-19s. Pakistani had advantage in training, and Sabres achieved 6:1 exchange ratios over MiG-21s, Sn-7s and Hunters. Only Indian aircraft that was able to successfully engage Sabres was small and cheap subsonic-only Folland Gnat, which was smallest fighter in the world – Gnats killed several Sabres without suffering any losses.

Falklands war

During Flaklands war, British sub threat neutralized Argentine surface navy after Belgrano was sunk (by a World War II unguided torpedo). However, poorly-maintained Argentine diesel-electric submarine easily penetrated British ASW defenses – best in NATO, attacked and then eluded 72 hours of ASW search. HMS Sheffield, meanwhile, was found and sunk by Exocet missile because of failure to shut down radar. Fighters with dumb bombs proved very hazardous for British ships, and of 5 ships sunk and 12 damaged, only 2 were Exocet hits. 10 Harriers were lost in 200 sorties, though British only admitted 4 lost to guns and 1 to SAM; at the same time, Harriers achieved 0,74 Pk for IR missiles, shooting down 20 aircraft in 27 launches, whereas Argentine BVR Matra Super 530 missiles all missed. Reason for high Sidewinder’s Pk was that Argentine pilots were using wrong tactics (“rotating the vulnerable cone” instead of trying to evade missile physically).

In order to defend against missiles, UK ships mounted as many light AA guns as could be found. For Argentina, most important early warning/search sensor was Boeing 707 loaded with passive receivers.

1990s and later

Even after Vietnam, USAF didn’t learn from mistakes. It was forced to accept good dogfighters, but even those were expensive, technology-loaded BVR F-15 and “multirole” (that is, mostly bombing) F-16. Only aircraft USAF did not screw up was Close Air Support A-10, but its production ended after only 715 were produced.

In Gulf War I, F-117 flew 1,250 sorties out of 41,000 total, making 2,000 laser bomb attacks, with 15 strikes being made in Baghdad on first night. It proved perfectly survivable in SEAD mission – as did “Wild Weasel” jamming aircraft and other non-stealth platforms, which also engaged air defenses. Of 15 SAM batteries attacked by F-117, 13 continued to operate. Radar SAMs made 20% of their kills in the last week.

Republician Guards divisions suffered very little damage to high-altitude bombing. But when Saddam sent significant elements of his army into Saudi Arabia, two A-10s and single AC-130 destroyed 58 targets in 71-vehicle convoy. Later, two A-10s killed 23 tanks in single encounter, and other two destroyed 20 Scud launchers.

In Kosovo war, NATO flew 36.000 sorties. Only 3 of 80 radar-missile batteries were destroyed, 387 enemy combatants killed and 1.400 civillians killed. Yugoslav army launched 845 radar SAMs, killing 2 F-117 and 1 F-16. F.16 flew 4.500 sorties, and F-117 1.300 sorties.

In Gulf and Kosovo wars, night-flying F-117s suffered 2 losses from 2.600 sorties, one mission-killed and one shot down. B-2s flew 49 sorties in Kosovo war and no sorties in Gulf War I, and suffered no losses. Day-flying A-10s suffered 4 losses in 12.400 sorties, 3 losses to man-portable IR missiles and 1 loss to SAM. A-10 had 95,7% in-comission rate. F-16 suffered 6 losses in 17.840 sorties (most sources state more than 5 F-16 losses in Gulf War I, but they count some aircraft twice).

In total, 41.404 sorties were flown in Gulf War I, 1.250 were flown by stealth aircraft. In Kosovo war, 38.004 sorties were flown, with 1.350 flown by stealth aircraft. Yet while non-stealth aircraft suffered 15 losses in both wars (1 per 5.294 sorties), stealth aircraft suffered 2 losses (1 per 1.300 sorties). In short, non-stealth aircraft were 4 times as survivable as stealth aircraft. Loss rate was 1 per 1.300 sorties for F-117, 1 per 3.100 sorties for A-10 and 1 per 3.000 sorties for F-16. As it can be seen, stealth reduced number of aircraft and per-aircraft sortie rate while not improving survivability.

In Afghanistan, A-10s proved able – when not operating under altitude restrictions – to provide Close Air Support to troops on the ground even in complete absence of radio communication; in one case, A-10s saved troops and escorted them 6 hours until they reached the base.

Gulf War II proved no different than Gulf War I. USAF dropped 1.500 precision bombs on first two days. 34 Tomahawk missiles and two F-117s failed to assassinate Saddam. Yet ground campaign toppled Saddam in 21 days. While US leadership proved to be utterly incompetent, which may not have been apparent when compared to “competence” of Iraqi leadership, soldiers at tactical level performed excellently. Reason for this is that, while soldiers are taught in spirit of Blitzkrieg tactical-level improvisation, generals think like engineers and thus could not adapt to changing conditions. Still, some have repeated observation made by General Schwartzkopf after Gulf War I: had Iraqi and US militaries swapped weapons, results would have been the same. It comes to no surprise; despite generals’ incompetence, initiative by troops at tactical level shielded soldiers from full brunt of its effects. At the opposite side, Iraqis, with demoralized troops, incompetent commanders and centralized command system, proved inflexible and unadaptable. This brought about strategic paralysis of Iraqi forces, which was actually responsible for overwhelming Coalition victory as opposed to claims that Coalition’s technological superiority was a decisive factor.

Highly-complex helicopters proved ineffective and vulnerable. In second Gulf War, 103 helicopters and 18 fixed-wing aircraft were lost.

Post-Gulf War II, US assumption that it can easily win with smaller quantity of higher quality units has, as one journalist put it, “bogged down in an urban attritional slog”.

Tests and exercises

During 1965 Featherduster test, F-86H achieved lopsided superiority over F-100, F-104, F-105, F-4 and F-5. Even when tactics were developed to counter F-86s extreme maneuverability, only F-5 managed to achieve 1:1 kill/loss ratio – most kills were due to surprise, with F-5 and F-86 being similarly hard to detect. In AIMVAL/ACEVAL, F-14 and F-15 scored around 1:1 exchange ratio against F-5; after rules were “adjusted” to suit modern fighters better, F-15 achieved 2:1 exchange ratio, and F-14 got slightly above 1:1. All engagements were 4-v-4 and 8-v-8. Pilots that were replaced in F-5 were up to full proficiency after 2 or 3 weeks, whereas F-15 replacements were still learning after 3 months. In 1-v-1 situations, F-14s rear operator was help, but in many-vs-many he overloaded pilot with inputs. Ground control assistance was also more important to complex fighters, and off-bore missiles improved results only slightly.

In naval exercises, diesel-electric submarines often achieve lopsided kill ratios – especially when skippers deviate from script, or script allows deviation. During 1981 NATO exercise “Ocean Venture”, a 1960s vintage Canadian diesel submarine “sank” carrier USS America without being detected once, and another “sank” USS Forrestal. In 1989 NATO exercise Northern Star, Dutch diesel submarine Zwaardvis stalked and “sank” USS America. In RIMPAC 1996, Chilean diesel submarine Simpson “sank” the carrier USS Independence. In 1999 NATO exercise JTFEX/TMDI99, Dutch diesel submarine Walrus “sank” carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, American exercise command ship USS Mount Whitney, a cruiser, several destroyers and frigates, and nuclear fast attack submarine USS Boise. During RIMPAC 2000, Australian Collins class diesel submarine HMAS Waller “sank” two US fast attack nuclear submarines and got dangerously close to carrier USS Abraham Lincoln before being “sunk” itself. During 2001 Operation Tandem Thrust, HMAS Waller “sank” two US amphibious assault ships in waters between 60 and 110 meters deep, while unnamed Chilean diesel sub “took out” nuclear fast attack submarine USS Montpelier – twice. In October 2002, HMAS Sheehan successfully hunted down and “killed” nuclear fast attack submarine USS Olympia near Hawaii, and in September 2003 several Collins class subs “sank” two US fast attack submarines and a carrier. In October same year, another Collins class “sank” nuclear fast attack submarine, and in 2005, Swedish Gotland-class submarine “sank” USS Ronald Reagan.

Modern weapons

Much like Hitler, many today – especially in the United States – are obsessed with “invulnerable” “do it all” superweapons. But reality as always is different: simpler something is, more likely it is to work. How complex modern weapons have become is shown best by the fact that US DoD has placed an emergency order for cruise missiles only several days into war on Kosovo, and that European NATO countries started running out of ammunition just few days into intervention in Libya. There is political reason for this: world, especially West, looks for what US do and then emulates it, as US are perceived as primary military power in the world. But US military is inwardly focused, with good mechanical training but lacking comprehension of why things are done as opposed to how to do them – for example, submariners are taught far more about nuclear reactor of submarine than how to use submarine effectively in combat. Promotion depends on social skills, politics and ambition; as result, most senior US military leaders never learned how to think in their own profession, but stick to things that have been drilled into them despite all evidence to the contrary. Signs are that many other Western militaries may be similarly deficient.


Due to F-15s problems with flameoffs, which meant that F-15s had to stay in afterburner, F-5Es frequently managed to run F-15s out of fuel during AIMVAL/ACEVAL tests. F-15 also has low fuel fraction, which certainly didn’t help things. Other than that, it is a relatively capable aircraft, but very expensive.


YF-16 was armed with Sidewinders, two M-39 20mm cannons, range-only radar and computing gunsights for missiles and guns, weighting 9.072 kg fully armed, with wing loading of 346,6 kg per square meter, and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,18. There was potential to reduce its weight between prototype and production stage to 8.392 kg, which would give wing loading of 321 kg per square meter and increase TWR to 1,28. It is also not likely that it would cost more than 20-25 million USD flyaway if sold new – when adjusted to inflation, its original cost works out to 16 million USD flyaway, and is actually most likely cost; if IRST and DRFM jammers are added, cost would go up to 18-20 million USD. Even as delivered, YF-16 was finest air superiority aircraft in the world, and would be among better fighter aircraft even today.

But production F-16 went in opposite direction: nose was widened to accomodate radar, which reduced maximum angle of attack to 26,6 degrees due to lateral stability issues, preventing it from achieving maximum turn performance; weight increased by 25%, maintenance man hours increased by over 25%, and cost increased by 67%. End result was costlier, less capable aircraft that could fly less often – F-16A costs 30 million USD, and even more complex F-16C costs 70 million USD.

Despite all that, F-16 in Israeli service achieved as many air-to-air kills as F-15; yet it was primarly used for ground attack, while F-15 was primarly used for air superiority.


Out of all Cold War era European fighters, Draken was the most difficult opponent faced by F-16. It has small size, low wing loading, good TWR, high lift coefficient, good fuel fraction, and good cruise persistance typical of single-engine deltas. It may have been better dogfighter than F-15, but it had complex electronics. Its successor, Viggen, was first fighter to use canards. Other than that, however, it was most similar to F-4.

Viggen is estimated to cost 40 – 45 million USD flyaway est. if sold new at present (when compared to YF-16, it indicates YF-16s cost as being around 20 million USD).


Compared to M-60, M-1 is 3 times as expensive and has avaliability rate of 45% as opposed to M-60s 85% – in short, effective forcesize is 6 times as large for M-60 as it is for M-1. M-1 needs 1 hour of refuelling every 3 hours and one hour of filter cleaning every 2 hours, and its machine guns cannot sweep down low enough to clear roadside ditches. Both tanks can be penetrated by modern anti-tank missiles and some types of armor-piercing projectiles, such as APFSDS. M-1 is inferior in short-track acceleration but superior in long-track one.

Considering the actual usage of tanks in the war, it is obvious that M1 is inferior weapon to M-60. In Gulf War, huge part of Saddam’s army escaped because M1s broke down too often. When everything is taken into account, M1 is most similar to Tiger I: an amazing weapon that is very expensive and not very useful because it ignores some basic facts of warfare.

Stealth aircraft

Most talked-about stealth aircraft in the West are F-22 and F-35. F-22 costs 250 million FY-2011 USD flyaway and 425 million FY-2012 USD unit procurement. F-35A, cheapest of variants, costs 197 million FY-2012 USD, and around 300 million USD unit procurement. Their costs are being misrepresented by using outdated values. In 2010, each F-22 cost 61.000 USD to operate per hour. Yet they are nothing special.

Being stealth aircraft, they are based on promise of radar-based BVR combat. But this promise simply cannot be counted on, as against maneuvering opponents with no ECM, BVR missiles achieved Pk that was never above 10% – and even that only from visual range; at actual BVR distances, Pk was 6,6%, which means that F-22 with 8 missiles carries enough missiles for Pk of 53% – half of what it should be for BVR to be decisive against capable opponent at best, and even that Pk does not take ECM into account, nor the fact that capable opponents will know that missile is inbound from the start, thus lowering Pk considerably. Further, stealth does not mean invisibility – it means reduced detection range against some types of radars. Longwave search radars can detect stealth aircraft at very long distances, as can other sensors such as IRST.

Equally bad folly of stealth fighters is their reliance on assumption of even BVR combat being radar-based. If enemy uses passive sensors only, and stealth aircraft uses radar, assumed advantage of stealth in surprise is reversed – any radar can be detected by modern RWRs long before it detects even largest-RCS fighters, facilitating completely passive launch of IR-based BVR missiles, assuming that IFF issue is solved (and if your aircraft are not using radar, it is easy). Aircraft carrying such missiles need not be large and complex either. RWR can also detect when radar has locked on, which means that not only missile launch is imminent but that fighter in question is blind to other threats that are beyond visual range, unless equipped with IRST.

Neither are stealth aircraft invisible to radar. From few angles, F-22 slips past; but from most angles, in words of one Senate staffer, it “lights up like the Budweiser blimp.” Not that it is likely to be important anyway, as both F-22 and the enemy are unlikely to use radar due to problems discussed in the previous paragraph. Radar stealth requirements have meanwhile increased its visual and IR signature to far higher levels than F-16s or even F-15s; as Col. Everest Riccioni put it, “The only way to make the F-22 stealthy is to tear the eyes out of enemy pilots’ heads”.

On one of two most important characteristics of weapon system – reliability – F-22 is a disappointment, with pilots getting only 8 to 10 hours of air training per month and aircraft itself suffering myriad of technical problems. Considering that history shows user skill to be the dominant characteristic deciding performance of a weapon, this lack of training does not bode well for F-22 in a real war. One F-22 can only support 0,5 sorties per day (compare to F-117s 0,7 sorties per day, which is also likely to be – at best – F-35s sortie generation performance, and F-16Cs 1,2 sorties per day); when compared to proposed YF-16 II, it is at huge numerical disadvantage: 24 F-22s cost 6,3 billion USD and can support 12 sorties per day; for same amount of money, 349 YF-16 IIs supporting 419 – 1.047 sorties per day could be bought, a 35:1 numerical advantage at very lowest. One of reasons is that stealth coating is very hard to maintain, and is vulnerable to rain; other is simply a complexity of systems required for radar-based combat.

But cult of stealth, carefully promoted in the West by US Air Force and uncritical media, is used as a marketing tool. In many circles, it is being treated as “I win” button for any tactical aircraft, asserting that aircraft with inferior pilot, weapons and flight characteristics is going to emerge victorious just because it is harder to detect by monostatic radars operating in X-L band range. Yet to other types of sensors and other radar bands, stealth aircraft are as detectable as “legacy” aircraft.


When compared to A-10, it has faster ground attack speed and greater turn radius, and no 30 mm cannon. It costs 5 times as much as A-10, has 1/5 the loiter time, and 1/2 sorties per day, and has no armor protection. While A-10 can take off from 1.500 m long dirt strip runway, F-15 needs 3.700 m long concrete air strip.


High-technology drones are now expected to provide both quality and quantity, replacing manned aircraft in both air-to-air combat and strike missions. They provide neither. As I have shown in another article, drones are more complex, maintenance-intensive, and expensive, than well-designed fighter aircraft; at the same time, far higher losses will be experienced due to increased complexity. Yet due to control lag and bad situational awareness, they are incapable of effectively engaging manned fighter aircraft.

Nuclear submarine

While typical AIP submarine costs 100-500 million USD, typical nuclear submarine costs 1-3 billion USD. AIP subs generally provide submerged (AIP) endurance of 14-30 days, and total endurance of 45 to 90 days, as AIP systems cannot yet replace oxygen-dependant diesel engine. Nuclear subs, on the other hand, typically have endurance – submerged or not – of 90-100 days, limited by the food storage for the crew. Gotland class has submerged endurance of 14 days at 5 knots, while Type 212 submarine has submerged endurance of over 30 days at 4 knots, and can cruise for cca 3 000 miles.

While nuclear submarines – being faster – are more suited for open ocean combat against enemy submarines, smaller AIP submarines are far less detectable, and in closed, shallow waters – like found in western Pacific – group of AIP submarines can easily outmaneuver and kill a nuclear submarine, or any surface vessel. It should be noted, however, that during World War II diesel submarines have achieved many kills even against fully-functioning warships cruising at high speeds, despite having submerged speeds that were in single-digit knots, and surface speeds far lower than those of contemporary surface warships. Even in open waters, AIP submarines are deadly, and despite skewed setups, diesel-electric submarines have regularly punched way above their weight in exercises, with common result being single diesel-electric submarine sinking several surface ships and/or nuclear submarines.

In fact, Chinese Song class submarine shadowed US aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk undetected before surfacing 5 miles from carrier on October 26, 2006 – and it takes 5 years to build nuclear aircraft carrier. Battle group included attack submarine and ASW surface ships. After surfacing, submarine was spotted by a routine flight of one of carrier group’s ASW aircraft. Andrew Cockburn noted that, during Cold War exercises, crews of European diesel-electric submarines were more concerned about colliding with noisy US nuclear submarines running fast (and thus blind), than about threat from surface ships.

As AIP submarines have eliminated one of only two “disadvantages” of diesel-electric submarines when compared to nuclear ones, having endurance of up to 30 days when submerged, 90 days total, only advantage of nuclear submarine remains its higher speed. However, in light of higher cost (1-3 billion USD vs 100-500 million USD for AIP sub), vulnerability and more complex maintenance, its advantages are rather questionable. Already questionable performance advantage of nuclear submarines becomes even more so when one remembers that historically submarines were most often used for severing enemy supply lines.

More about nuclear and AIP submarines here. In the end, US ignorance of basic but mundane capabilities has led it to being dependant on allies for anti-mine warfare and provision of conventional undersea capabilities.

AH-64 Apache

While Apache costs 60 million USD, a Little Bird costs no more than 4,5 million USD. Little Bird can also easily be towed on truck and co-located with ground units, towed on trucks and trailers. Instead of using wannabe-A-10 from concrete air bases, actual A-10 and Little Bird could be co-located with ground troops to provide superior Close Air Support capability; Little Bird could act as a spotter for A-10. Considering costs, 60 million USD paid for single Apache could buy 2 A-10s, 2 MH-6 Little Birds and 4 OV-10 – a several times better CAS capability. Further, MH-6 can be configured so as to quickly transport troops – up to 6 passangers per helicopter – whereas Apache cannot.


Stryker costs 3,3 million USD per copy (4,3 million with R&D), which goes even higher when add-ons – including slat armor – are considered. Yet they have been shown vulnerable to automatic arms fire and IEDs, and its 19 tons distributed over eight wheels means that it cannot be used in some types of terrain that even 60-ton Abrams tanks have no trouble with. Single infantry company in Diyala lost 5 Strykers in less than a week. Canadians soon started using M113 MTVL Gavins, . Aside from being cheaper – at 320.000 USD – and more survivable, M113 is also amphibious. Like all tracked vehicles when compared to similar-capability wheeled ones, M113 exhibits smaller, lower silhouette, reduced volume, enhanced maneuverability and better ballistic protection than Stryker, all of which translates into superior survivability, as well as better mobility (4-6 times faster long-distance travel over sand, and 2-3 times faster long-distance travel over wet Europe-type terrain). While M113 can achieve speeds of 120 kph on road and 42 kph cross-country, Stryker’s official speed is 100 kph on road and 64 kph cross-country – but it gets stuck in bad terrain (mud, sand, etc) so often that in actual off-road conditions in all but easiest of terrains, M113 will get to destination far faster than Stryker – assuming that Stryker even makes it. In fact, Stryker is so bad that it managed to get itself stuck on a paved road (sewer was not covered… I guess that shit does happen. Not that it is only danger to Stryker’s mobility).

Its mobility in other areas is also bad: only the latest C-130J can carry Stryker due to its high weight. M113 Gavin is not only transportable by any C-130 model, but can be deployed via parachute drop. Unlike Stryker, it is also transportable by helicopters.

According to soldiers who serve in them, slat armor is only effective against about half of RPG attacks. At the same time, it adds 1 meter in width and 3 tons in weight to already large and heavy vehicle. Stryker is also incapable of using its theoretical maximum speed in practice, as it risks overturning the vehicle even when on road; slat armor makes it more top-heavy and thus even more unstable and speed-limited.

Stryker is a maintenance nightmare: nine tires a day are changed after failling due to additional weight of slat armor; vehicle’s computers freeze up at critical moments or overheat in desert temperatures; grenade launcher fails to hit targets when vehicle is moving.

Its Remote Weapon System machine gun has narrow field of view and only rotates very slowly. In contrast, manually-operated weapons of M113 have far better coverage and far faster rotation speeds. Soldiers can also use personal weapons to shoot at high-up targets, something Stryker’s RWS is incapable of.

All of this makes Stryker more danger to soldiers inside it than to the opponents: in 2004, Strykers made up less than 2% of vehicles in Iraq, yet suffered 4% of casualties – more people died in 300 Strykers than in 1,700 Gavins. Since 4th generation warfare is all about morale and propaganda, having Strykers destroyed by cheap RPGs is definetly not a way to win it.

BVR missiles

AIM-120D costs 1.470.000 USD, whereas IRIS-T costs 276.000 USD. With maximum range of 160 kilometers, as opposed to IRIS-Ts 18,5 kilometers, it would appear to have a clear advantage. Reality, however, is something different.

BVR missiles never were effective. Their complexity made them both more expensive and less reliable, while not providing significant range advantage: most kills in Vietnam and all later wars happened from visual range, yet Pk against competent opponents with no ECM was never above 10%, compared to 19% for IR missiles; average Pk was 8,1% for BVR missiles and 15% for IR missiles. With probability of kill against modern fighters being 0,86-1,46%, fighter aircraft would have to carry 68 – 116 missiles to achieve single kill. At most, Pk may be 2-3% if Pk against aircraft with no ECM is still assumed as 8%, requiring 33-50 missiles. But even largest modern fighters, Russian Flanker variants, can only carry up to 14 missiles, for a combined Pk of 12% to 42%; modern Western fighters can carry no more than 10 missiles, which means that combined Pk of entire missile loadout would be between 8,6 and 30%.

As it can be seen, 11 AIM-120D cost 16 million USD, yet at best equalize Pk of two IRIS-T missiles, costing 552.000 USD, against competent opponent. Even if only maneuvering performance of missile vs fighter is counted, 4 AIM-120Ds, costing a total of 5,88 million USD, would be required to equalize Pk of a single IRIS-T. From that, it can be easily seen that AIM-120D is less effective weapon. For a Pk of 100% against modern fighter, anywhere between 12 and 116 AIM-120Ds, costing 17,6 to 170,5 million USD, would be required; yet such fighter would need not to cost more than 18-22 million USD flyaway.

This is actually even worse for BVR fighter than it seems: jamming and simple noise can cut radar’s range to 30% of theoretical maximum, and fighters have frontal RCS between 1 and 5 m2 when loaded for AtA, which gives lock-on range of 50-290 kilometers. This means that it can only start locking on enemy at distance of 15-87 kilometers if jamming is present. Fighters are likely closing at combined speed of Mach 2 – 4, so they will reach each another in 11-128 seconds; as radar-guided missiles require 10-15 seconds of electronic acquisition for cooperative target, jamming means that fighters will get to merge before managing to lock on to each another; even if that does not happen, they are unlikely to get more than few radar-guided missile shots. IR missiles are 5 times faster to lock on, and harder to fool. Further, enemy can use radar signals to target radar-using aircraft,

Using radar is equally suicidal for surface ships: during Vietnam War, USS Worden was accidentally attacked by Shrike missiles which homed in on and destroyed ship’s radar, as well as disabling command center. In other examples, missiles succesfully attacked US Marine units that did not shut down their radars. Active radar can only detect targets in line of sight (exception being ground-based-only HF radars), yet it itsef can be detected from over the horizon. Further, ships using radars at same time must use different frequencies to avoid interference, making them more easily detected. Thus surveillance should be carried ot through combination of passive infrared and visual sensors. Neither fighter or ship radar can be shut down quickly.

Nuclear aircraft carriers

When Adm. Hyman Rickover, a proponent of building nuclear-powered carriers, was asked in a Senate hearing how long those carriers would survive in a war with the Soviet Union, he replied, “About two days.” Worse, they do not really provide greater force presence than even equal number of conventional carriers – in fact, same number of conventional carriers can provide 10% greater force presence, and each can carry more aircraft than similarly-sized nuclear carrier, can deploy more quickly, and spend same amount of time on-station, as both types carriers are limited by perishables (no matter how US Navy may want it, Star Trek replicators still don’t exist). Losses in conventional carriers can be replaced far more quickly than nuclear carriers – in peacetime, nuclear carriers take 71% longer to construct than conventional ones – 7,2 against 4,2 years between funding and comissioning. As proven in World War 2, construction time of conventional carrier can be reduced to one-third in case of massive war, whereas such reduction in construction time of a nuclear carrier is questionable at best. Conventional carrier costs 10 times less to operate and retire than nuclear carrier, and takes 4,2 years to construct – compare to 7,2 years for nuclear carrier.

Result of US Navy’s reliance on highly complex ships is that part swapping (a.k.a. cannibalizing other ships) is standard procedure to keep fleet running, and more than one-fifth of ships are not combat ready. And while Navy is planning to have ships that help maintain themselves, not everyone agrees. Smaller crews also mean lesser capability for damage control.

During days of Canadian carrier aviation, it was well known that HMCS Bonadventure could put more aircraft in the air than US nuclear carriers. Carrier aviators are not any better than land ones, while flying less capable aircraft. In early 1980s, average Canadian pilot flew 300 hours per year, compared to 160 hours for US Navy aviators. This probably had a lot to do with beatings inflicted on USN pilots in exercises: in USN-IAF exercise in 2000., Israeli F-16s squared off against (admittedly less capable) F-14s and F-18s, “shooting down” 220 US aircraft, while “loosing” only 20 of their own. Later, Chile air force pilots flying unsophisticated but nimble F-5s achieved 10:1 exchange ratio against USN fighters.

On October 2000 Russian Su-24 and Su-27 aircraft approached USS Kitty Hawk, remaining undetected until they were virtually on top of the carrier.

Not that aircraft are only danger. Just as important danger are submarines, and as Captain John L. Byron has noted, even noisy nuclear submarines have little difficulty in approaching strike range of nuclear carriers. To quote him: “Operating against a carrier is too easy. The carrier’s ASW protection often resembles Swiss cheese.”

In 2002 exercise Millenium Challenge, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper used small boats to destroy 16 US ships, including aircraft carrier and two helicopter carriers. In display of cheating similar to what is often used by USAF to allow stealth aircraft such lopsided kill ratios, US Navy simply reactivated “destroyed” ships and continued exercise as if “attack” never happened.

These failures in exercises, often happening despite rules that favor USN, indicate that training is far more important than hardware. A 2002 study by RAND corporation confirmed that U.S. Navy training in fighters, ASW aircraft and surface ship ASW does not compare favorably with the training received by members of the French Navy and the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Also unlike British and French crews, US Navy aviators do not maintain consistent readiness to go in to battle through the fiscal year.


LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) was expected to be affordable. It isn’t. It was also expected to be survivable – it isn’t. Neither should be surprising, as even though LCS had better idea – modularity, as opposed to “one-configuration-does-it-all” disasters – it is still too small to be truly multirole, and just the fact that it was designed to be stealth limits its affordability and maintainability.


Naval and anti-tank mines are cheap and effective. They can be constructed from fiber glass or plastic to make detection more difficult. By detonation system they can be contact, influence (subdivided into magnetic, acoustic, seismic, underwater electric potential, pressure and video mines based on type of sensors used) and command detonated mines. Mines are area/access denial systems and are static, however, so their effectiveness is not so much in denying access completely as much as forcing opponent to act in a more predictable way or delaying him from reaching time-critical objectives.

Moored naval mines can be armed with torpedoes, greatly increasing their reach. In that case, IFF becomes a problem. Limpet mines, however, are attached to ships by divers; these can disable or sink even a large warship. Some naval mines can be launched as torpedoes by submarines from large distances.

Problem with mines is that often large numbers are required to be effective, and mines alone are almost worthless. They are most effective when used in choke points (such as El Alamein) but are not insurmountable obstacle even there; and if misdeployed, they can be easily circumvented.


As it can be seen, quality of weapons is overshadowed by their quantity, and both are overshadowed by quality of troops using them. Definition of “quality” as “weapons’ superiority in one-on-one combat” is wrong – if analysis of weapon’s ability does not include its presence on the battlefield and its impact on user’s skill, it is useless. Even a smaller force, fighting with inferior weapons, will usually win if it is better trained and more flexible at both tactical and strategic level; but smaller force using superior weapons will only win against larger force if it has superior training, if training is at similar level and numerical superiority of opposing force isn’t large, or if disparity in weapons is fundamental and situation allows advantage to be exploited (squadron of A-10s against Napoleonic war dragoons or a dreadnought against 18th century ship-of-the-line). This reality places emphasis on weapons’ quantity, and even more its reliability. Both of these are achieved by austere design that must be based on objective analysis of realities of war.

For these reasons, military historians are far more important in analyzing likely success of a new weapon than engineers. Comparing weapons without understanding their usage through history is useless; using just statistical comparision of technical characteristics, Tiger would have been far superior tank to T-34 or Panzer IV. Yet even man who designed rulebook of Blitzkrieg, at least where armored warfare is concerned, considered cheaper and more reliable Panzer IV far superior weapon to Tiger. Reason is simple: easiest way to win is if you can cut off enemy supply lines; both Guderian and Patton considered that, and not anti-tank combat, main purpose of tanks. For such maneuver, tanks have to be long-ranged, mobile and reliable; heavy German tanks were neither, and neither is M1 Abrams (Leopard II may be, but I am not sure about it).

And even in one-on-one combat, more expensive weapon won’t necessarily be superior if it is built without clear idea on which characteristics are important. Weapons are exercises in tradeoffs, and adding performance in one area reduces it in another. If there is no clear idea on which areas are important, it is easy to end up with weapon that is underperforming in important areas while still being cripplingly expensive – in fact, more expensive the weapon is, greater the likelyhood of exactly that outcome. This holds true as much between weapons of same type as between weapons of different types – assault rifles are most important weapon of any modern military, and submarines are far more important in naval warfare than aircraft carriers, even though their ground support (and diplomatic) possibilities are limited. Cheap, rugged close air support aircraft are far more important weapon in any war than expensive long-range bombers.

Increased quality of weapons can negatively affect their performance simply due to higher officers refusing to put them into harm’s way. Smaller number of platforms also leads to higher operational tempo, wearing them, as well as personnell, out sooner. Result is that, contrary to conventional “logic”, cheaper weapons are often better-performing than more complex ones, both individually and as a system, and people are far more important than weapons. And while genuine game changing technologies emerge now and then, all of them are relatively simple even by standards of the time, and are result of adressing problems with old technologies by changing to a new concept rather than fixing one that does not work. To apply it to modern warfare, IRST is far more likely to change nature of aerial warfare than any advance in radar or radar stealth is.

In the end, dumb weapon and smart user always beat smart weapon and dumb user – just check 1990s Yugoslav wars. And while having dumb soldiers is rather exceptional occurence, having dumb leaders forcing soldiers to act like they’re dumb is a rather regular one. This situation seems unlikely to change, especially in United States where promotion boards select people that board’s members are most comfortable with, thus actively maintaining status quo; after both World War II and Vietnam, latter of which United States lost, US military brass ignored lessons made obvious by the wars, opting for more gold-plated weaponry. And to use Medieval metaphor, while pure-gold armor may be more expensive and nicer to look at, ultimately it is useless when compared to cheaper, uglier but reliable steel armor.


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16 replies

  1. 1-You should not compare the F-15E with the A-10…they are different aircraft for diferent missions.Over the Pacific ocean what would you prefer? An MudHen with Harpoon/Lrasm missiles or an A-10?
    2-I dont think the Abrams is a bad tank…but it could be better.The new M-1 A3 is suposed to be lighter and have a Diesel engine…But we bouth know that it will end up heavier and with a new turbine…what a shame…And the US Army was suposed to drop the XM-1 in the late 1970s and go with the Super M-60 or the Leopard 2 AV…many say that the decision to go with the M-1 was a move to save Chrysler from bankruptcy…
    3-The Apache is also an enigma to me…why didnt the army whent after a SuperCobra like the USMC is a mistery…they whanted to steel budget from the USAF,some say…
    And i leave you with some good weapons that the US armed forces never look at…


    • 1-It is usually said that A-10 will be replaced by F-35, which of course is idiocy but…
      3-Apache is more complex and more expensive (a.k.a. money stealer) so it was probably a budget war. Another reason could be that they wanted something like A-10 because USAF wouldn’t give them real A-10. Of course, being a helicopter, Apache does not even approach A-10 when it comes to survivability, affordability or ability to blow the crap up.

      As for weapons, USAF wants multirole. YA-7 + YF-16 would have been far better than F-16 they have today, and cheaper too. A-10B is just an example of excellent weapon killed by USAF brass’ addiction to expensive weapons, as is A-6F (I don’t think it would have been anywhere as good for CAS as A-10, but it could do battlefield interdiction) but Tomcat never was really good in any of its roles.

  2. Hi,
    when I read your articles about efficiency and cost relations of weapons and weaponsystems, I ask myself, how russian (or east european) hardware would perform. My uneducated guess would, for example be, that russian fighters were less maintenance intensive and therefore maybe more reliable concerning the average availability. Furthermore, I think that despite much bad reputation, russian radars and so on don´t have any major disadvantages in comparison to their western pendants.

    So what´s about some analysis of, let´s say MiG 35, SU 27 family and so on?

    • I’ll do Su-27 analysis one day, but aircraft analysis takes a very long time, and I’m writing one for Dassault Rafale right now. From what I know, Russian hardware generally is reliable, which is a very important characteristic in a weapon.

      • Ok, I am already anxious for it. Because all I could read about Suchois and MiGs was, they were of course far, far inferior to all american fighters in terms of electronical and other parameters. But since the russian aeronautical industry isn´t the most unexperienced, and the russians aren´t the most stupid people, I guess their capabilities are underestimated. We will see…

      • I don’t think anyone seriously questioned Russian aerodynamical expertise.

  3. No, not the aerodynamical performance, but the overall efficiency. It´s not hard to find articles and blogs where nearly everyone seems to be convinced, that russian fighters are a kind of “easy food” for all western fighter aircraft, most certainly for american ones (this perception was boosted by the development of aircraft with radar stealth features).

    • Everybody is so convinced because West never fought modern fully-equipped Russian fighters flown by competent pilots… Vietnam and Korea were relatively long ago but Russian jets there proved to be as capable or more capable than Western jets. Only F-86 could be said to have been superior to MiG-15 and MiG-17, and later century-series US fighters (witrh exception of F-100 to an extent) could not match any of these.

  4. Only one F-117 was lost in Kosovo, can you give me a reliable source of downing two F-117 in combat.

  5. ‘In Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, Pakistani Air Force had 96 Mark VI Sabres equipped with Sidewinders, plus 75 Mirage IIIs, F-104s and MiG-19s. Pakistani had advantage in training, and Sabres achieved 6:1 exchange ratios over MiG-21s, Sn-7s and Hunters. Only Indian aircraft that was able to successfully engage Sabres was small and cheap subsonic-only Folland Gnat, which was smallest fighter in the world – Gnats killed several Sabres without suffering any losses.’

    @Picard578 your articles are the among the most insightful i’ve ever come across. this quality vs quantity debate was amazing too. but are you serious about this claim of yours? 6:1 in Sabre’s favour? pls explain as to how you cooked up this stat. dude IAF swatted down Sabres all over the sub-continent. official figures of IAF are 95 kills vs 45 losses combined. of the 95, 28 are confirmed A2A kills and 17 are probable, rest are AAA/ground kills or captured. and considering our force’s professionalism and tendency to stay away from misplaced chest-beating jingoism unlike the Pakis or the Chinese you can bet your ass that those rest 26 are confirmed kills too. these figures are supported by neutral analysts and as fate would have it these analysts are your western brethren.

    of those 28 confirmed kills 11 are attributed to Hunters and each against the Sabre. MiG-21 won the much touted battle against the F-104 with 4 confirmed and 2 probable kills. among our losses hardly a dozen can be attributed to A2A combat, most of them are AAA kills. even among the A2A kills 90% of them are Su-7 and Hunters. i’m simply amazed at how you could make such a poorly researched claim.

    the IAF is single handedly responsible for making the MiG-21 the best selling supersonic fighter ever. regardless of these figures the IAF flew ten times the sorties as PAF and helped in achieving the ultimate goal- chopping down Pakistan to its correct size. i believe that you blindly trust Pakistani and pro-Paki western sources. if that’s the case then according to you Pakistan isn’t a terrorist state is it? even when Bin Laden was assassinated in a Pakistani military cantonment area. Bravo Sir! Bravo!

    i can’t help but notice that you have a particular disdain for India and her capabilities. i’m not gonna ask you to do something foolish like ‘respect Indians’ or that kind of shit but i find it farcical when you espouse on theories of acceptable quality having tremendous advantage over quality alone and then write the captioned nonsense. i understand that the Rafale deal has made Indo-French ties sour, with you being a particularly big-time Rafale fan. i love the Rafale too but it simply ain’t worth the money. if for 10 billion euros i could buy out Dassault Aviation itself why should just be content with 36 jets, duh?

    • “your articles are the among the most insightful i’ve ever come across. this quality vs quantity debate was amazing too.”


      “but are you serious about this claim of yours? 6:1 in Sabre’s favour? pls explain as to how you cooked up this stat.”

      IIRC, I took it from Pierre Sprey’s presentation I have linked on the site.

      “dude IAF swatted down Sabres all over the sub-continent. official figures of IAF are 95 kills vs 45 losses combined. of the 95, 28 are confirmed A2A kills and 17 are probable, rest are AAA/ground kills or captured. ”

      Official figures are typically bollocks. Official USAF figures for F-4 vs MiG-21 have F-4 achieving 2:1 total kill/loss ratio vs MiG-21, official NVAF figures have MiG-21 acheving 2:1 kill/loss ratio vs F-4, my best guess is rough parity, with each side achieving advantage in certain stages of the war. Typically kill claims get overstated, so the best bet is to take own losses as reported by both sides and base estimates off them (albeit those might be cooked up as well, they are far more reliable than almost certainly incorrect kill claims). However, in this article I simply used Sprey’s figures, and I’m not sure anymore that those are correct because he did the research during the Cold War, when all documentation might not have been avaliable. But I am not ready to believe official IAF figures, for the reasons I have outlined, and I could not spare time to do research on the war myself simply for the sake of that one article (which does not mean I’m not going to do it in the future).

      Doing a quick look at the war right now, figures reported here seem most correct:
      and I would especially like to note the conclusion:
      >>This article is the result of over 8 months of often frustrating research. Both the Indian and Pakistani air forces have tended to fudge figures and accounts. It took time and much effort to sift through the claims, counter-claims and various accounts of the 1971 air war to arrive at some basic conclusions. This article was possible thanks to the moral and financial support from Mr. Raj Dave of Illinois, USA.<<

      "and considering our force’s professionalism and tendency to stay away from misplaced chest-beating jingoism unlike the Pakis or the Chinese you can bet your ass that those rest 26 are confirmed kills too."

      Maybe, but due to the nature of war (fog of war, hope etc.) kill claims are always overstated. Oftentimes mission kills are mistaken for complete kills, enemy retreating to a treetop level can be mistaken for a successful shootdown etc. And that is true even for confirmed kills – very rarely are other observers in a position to correctly assess wether the aircraft has been shot down. Confirmation prevents outright lies, but little more than that.

      "of those 28 confirmed kills 11 are attributed to Hunters and each against the Sabre. MiG-21 won the much touted battle against the F-104 with 4 confirmed and 2 probable kills."

      That I can believe. BTW, as I recall Folland Gnat was the most difficult opponent F-86 fought (and I'm counting all wars the F-86 was used in).

      "the IAF is single handedly responsible for making the MiG-21 the best selling supersonic fighter ever."

      Unlikely. Its ubiqutous avaliability, low cost and easy maintenance compared to other Soviet fighters ensured that it was used among majority of WarPac and "nonaligned" countries. Just like many countries are buying F-35 today because it is produced in United States. During the Cold War, both USA and USSR could make badly thrown together piles of garbage, call them "fighter jets" and they would still sell comparatively well. Politics.

      "i believe that you blindly trust Pakistani and pro-Paki western sources. if that’s the case then according to you Pakistan isn’t a terrorist state is it?"

      I generally do not really trust anyone whose work I am not familiar with in some detail (unless there are several independent sources supporting each other), and I never trust official sources (USAF, IAF etc.). Pierre Sprey has made some mistakes, but most of things he wrote are correct, so I cannot dismiss him out of the hand either – even though, as noted, timeframe when he did his research causes problems because it is possible he simply did not have all the sources avaliable.

      Regarding Pakistan being a terrorist state or not, I know that Pakistan has helped Muslim terrorists, but that is not exactly unique. Considering the nature of Islam, I would classify any Islamic country as a terror state, but not only Islamic countries either.

      "i can’t help but notice that you have a particular disdain for India and her capabilities."

      Funny. Americans say that I have disdain for United States, Russians say that I have a disdain for Russia, and now Indian says that I have a disdain for India. I have to say that this is the best compliment I have received so far – when everyone says that I dislike their particular nation, that means I am at least close to truth even if I did not find it yet.

      "i understand that the Rafale deal has made Indo-French ties sour, with you being a particularly big-time Rafale fan."

      I am a Rafale fan, but you should note the date when the article was written. I generally do not modify articles after I wrote them, and if I do, I do it in a way of additions, and under the date when modification was made. Even if I was such a petty idiot so as to allow political decision to influence my article, India's Rafale deal could not have had impact, because the decision was still up in the air at the time when I wrote it.


  1. Comparing Modern Western fighters - Page 4
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