Assorted Thoughts and Ideas
The following is a collection of ideas that for various reasons never made it to their own webpages. Rather than have them sit in my files, I will place them here.
Strategic, Operational and Tactical
Strategic and tactical are often confused. An understanding of the distinction will be helpful in the following sections.
Tactics affect how a combat is conducted. Strategy affects everything outside the actual fighting. Strategy determines what you attack, when you attack, where you attack and why.
A simple rule of thumb is that if the shooting or violence has started, things are now tactical.
Yes, TV shows and movies constantly get this wrong!
“Operational” is a relatively new term, and is intermediate between strategic and tactical. The term came into use during the 1980s and previously had been known by names such as “minor-strategy” or “grand-tactics”. Operational level actions take place “in-theatre”, while strategy can be applied in-theatre or anywhere else.
Fighting the Wars of the Past and the Wars We Want
“In any military organization there is no surer way to disaster than to take what has been done for many years, and to go on doing it -the problem having changed.”
A History of Warfare. (p563) Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Montgomery’s observation clarifies the old aphorism that “generals are always fighting the last war”.
This trait is often forgotten when studying military matters. Nor is it appreciated just how wide, deep and large a problem this may be.
While re-fighting the previous wars is logical, there is a danger that the information from the past gets cherry-picked to support a currently fashionable doctrine or theory, or important factors and changes are not sufficiently recognized.
Most officers with further education study military-history rather than psychology, economics or political science. Their understanding of tools such scientific design and statistics may be partial.
Reading some military journals one might be forgiven for concluding that referencing Napoleon or Julius Caesar was a requirement to get published!
“Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it; Those who fail to learn history correctly; why they are simply doomed.”
For an example, let us look at the BRDM scout car. It has some post-World War Two technologies such as night-vision equipment and NBC-protection, but essentially it is a vehicle designed for War War Two-type operations. The same might be said of the HMMWV, intended to serve as a jeep, but greatly larger. Motorized reconnaissance was in its infancy during the Second World War. It was not fully appreciated that a reconnaissance vehicle must do more than move a set of eyes and field glasses around. It has neither sufficient protection nor is it stealthy enough for reconnaissance.
On a modern battlefield, these lightly armoured or unarmoured vehicles are easy prey to RPGs.
Helicopters proved to be useful in Vietnam. Now operations are in areas of longer visibility, and new weapons are being fielded. The helicopter is proving to be less effective.
Carrier battlegroups also worked well in Vietnam, since North Vietnam had no submarine capability. Many nations now have effective submarines, some of which have demonstrated their abilities to penetrate US carrier battlegroups.
It is not just in technology that this trait can be observed. Many nations have large parachute-capable forces, even though historically large airborne operations have been rare. Most parachute forces lack any motorized ground transport, limiting their strategic utility.
A fixed bayonet is a handy self-defence weapon if an enemy is within a couple of body lengths.
Massed bayonet charges of dozens of metres have probably been obsolete since Napoleon was retired. Yet, as we look through the centuries since, this tactic has been used again and again. At Belleau Wood (1918), Germans described marines as advancing “like the machine gun had never been invented”. Across the decades since, bayonet charges have been used, and admittedly have succeeded, but one can only wonder how much luck has played a part and the unnecessary cost.
There is also comfort in the familiar.
Infantry have always dug-in in fields, and there is plenty of information on the proper way to do it.
How well will an entrenched rural position stand up to modern artillery and air bombardment? Satellite surveillance, HALE reconnaissance or just locals with cell-phones may have observed considerable details of the position during construction. Some computer databank may hold a record of every feature and its exact location.
The small size of many modern military forces may allow an enemy to avoid many static rural defences entirely.
Few nations have sufficient air-defence assets to completely prevent intrusion by enemy aircraft.
Many of an enemy’s objectives are likely to be in urban areas. Since the Spanish Civil War it has been recognized that defending in an urban area negates many of an attacker’s advantages in armour and airpower.
Many of our future combats are likely to occur in urban areas. Equipment, training and structure need to reflect this.
Urban areas are one of the few terrains that it may be possible to construct defences without extensive aerial surveillance.
Extensive artillery or airborne bombardment of an urban area might be politically pyrrhic.
“Fighting the previous war” is an easy trap to fall into.
The articles on the Scrapboard are by no means immune from this tendency. But I am far from alone in that pitfall.
Millions in resources and planning are being wasted this way. Soultions to problems that may never arise again.
The past is our main source of information and the future an undiscovered country, so it can be hard to predict what will become relevant and what will not.
This, of course, raises the question “What has changed?”
- Population and population density has increased. Since the Second World War global population has trippled.
- Greater proportions of the population now reside in urban areas.
- Certain weapon systems have radically increased in cost, leading to the reduced acquisition and fielding.
- Other technologies will continue to fall in cost and see wider applications.
- Communications have improved, but this may be partially countered by improvements in counter-measures.
- The acquisition and processing of information has improved. Not only can more and better data be gathered, it may be more readily processed into useful information within a useful time period.
- Guided weapons are getting smarter and more sophisticated.
- Autonomous systems will improve in capability and see wider applications.
- Performance of certain weapon classes has increased in both utility and destructive potential. An individual may be capable of inflicting damage that formerly needed artillery.
This list is by no means complete nor extensive.
Whenever a new idea or weapons system is put forward, it is reasonable to ask: “What war is this intended to fight?”
There is a related trap to bear in mind: Preparing to fight the war you want.
• The army wants to fight a big, conventional war.
• The air force wants its fighter planes rather than to fly close-support and transport.
• The navy wants its carriers and air wings.
A fundamental of strategy is to exploit an enemy’s weaknesses and not to play to their strengths. Even against “conventional” foes, we can expect operations in urban terrain, infiltration and the targeting of the morale of the nation rather than its military.
Road convoys need a reconnaissance UAV with sufficient speed and endurance to range ahead of a force. Vehicles do not like to loiter in bandit country, so the UAV will probably need a speed of at least 100 km/h.
The UAV should be capable of operating close to the ground when necessary so it can search for indications of buried IEDs or spider-holes. Some means of armament should be included so that the UAV can engage targets of opportunity.
Just after the Second World War, Russia began to develop the aircraft that was to become the An-2 Colt. This was greeted with some derision in the West. The Jet Age had dawned, so who needed biplanes? Apparently, quite a few people!
The An-2 was to become one of the most produced aircraft of all time, with a production run of at least 45 years. Ironically, many western nations eventually became operators. At least one nation’s special forces operates An-2/3s.
Production of the An-2, An-3 and other variants has now ceased and many of the remaining aircraft are approaching the end of their service life. There is still a requirement for robust utility aircraft that can operate from small, poorly prepared landing areas. Africa, and many other developing areas, would have various uses for such aircraft.
The main improvement that I would propose would be to adopt a twin-engine configuration. There are obvious safety benefits to this, and some redundancy is prudent for an aircraft that may be operating hundreds of miles from timely aid. I tend to imagine this aircraft as a slightly larger version of the DH-89 Dragon Rapide. Engines used would be selected from models known for their reliability and wide availability of spares. Modular construction might allow a variety of options, depending on the intended operating area. Other systems would also be selected with an eye towards reliability and ease of maintenance. This may mean “fly-by-wire” systems instead of, or in addition to mechanical. STOL performance and the ability to operate from rough strips would also be priorities. The ability to use ski and float landing gear will be needed.
Flak Tanks Evolved
Anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) has a long history of being effective against ground targets. Their high-elevation mountings have proved useful in urban and mountainous terrain. The weight of fire they can produce is useful in the suppression of ambushes and anti-tank positions.
Many writers, myself included, have advocated that AAA vehicles be given sufficient armour and protective systems to make them even more effective in the ground combat role.
Recently there has been increasing interest in a role labelled as “C-RAM”: Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar. It is highly likely that AAA vehicles will contribute to this capability, with increases in their ability to engage small, high-speed or highly mobile targets.
In addition to improved automatic weapons, we are likely to see vehicles also mounting jamming systems and directed-energy weapons. These have obvious applications for also engaging multiple enemy UAVs, which may vary considerably in size, altitude and speed.
Some surface-to-air missile systems may have ground roles. High-velocity missiles like Starstreak may have applications as kinetic-energy missiles.
This suggests that air-defence artillery vehicles might evolve into more capable and more versatile armoured fighting vehicles. They will be better armoured and better equipped for close combat, mounting a variety of rapid fire and directed-energy weapon systems that can engage both airborne and ground targets.
Units of such vehicles would prove useful as convoy escorts and for defending rear areas. Armoured companies are also likely to include several “flak tanks” to support more conventional tanks and IFVs.
Flak tank support will be invaluable both in open-country and urban areas.
Conversely, another growth area may be the development of very light air defence systems.
When in position, extensive use of nets and other camouflage measures will be made. After firing, these will rely on rapid relocation to counter enemy SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence) measures.
Systems that resemble or are based on civilian vehicles are likely. A possible configuration is a light truck such as a GAZ-66B or Unimog, stripped down and with an open cab to allow a better field of fire.
Time, Distance, Shielding
Something that I was taught for working with radioactive materials was that protection was a product of “TDS”: Time, Distance and Shielding.
“Time” is minimizing your exposure time, which encompasses both strategy and tactical factors such as the use of smoke and concealment.
You cannot always be out of range, but against some weapons distance increases your reaction time or just makes you harder to actually hit.
Since these first two are seldom perfectly achieved in a tactical situation, you will need some means of shielding, be it earth, brick walls or armour plate.
If you are on foot, you can wear body armour, but your main source of shielding is the terrain and environment around you. Some of these also provide concealment.
If you are in a vehicle, terrain and environment are not so useful sources of shielding. Vehicles are larger so there is much less choice of terrain folds to hide in or objects to hide behind. Moving vehicles are also noisy and kick up dust, drawing attention to themselves.
This logically leads us to one conclusion. Any vehicle that operates in a tactical environment must have adequate armour. Travelling in an unarmoured or poorly armoured vehicle is worse than being on foot. You have neither the protection of terrain nor that of armour. Instead you are clustered with other potential victims as a tempting target for any enemy within range.
I would have said that this is self-evident, but the history of military operations in the last few decades suggests that it is not.
PVC: Passibility, Visibility, Cover
PVC is a concept that has appeared in several of my articles, but apparently I never got around to including the name.
PVC is a tool for assessing terrain:
• Passibility: An estimate of how easily terrain may be crossed. This will vary for dismounted personnel and vehicles of different weights and designs.
• Visibility: How far and how well the terrain allows you to see. This includes the availability of concealment. Visibility will vary with time of day, season and weather. It will also vary with the direction the enemy is viewing from. Good cover at ground level may be very exposed to aerial observation. Terrain that offers concealment for an infantryman may offer none for an eight-wheeled three-metre high APC.
• Cover: The capability of the terrain to protect from enemy fire. This will vary with type of weapon used, and the type of unit under fire.
Safer by Air?
Ground vehicles are easily ambushed. Helicopters are expensive and delicate.
The best way to move troops long distances may be by light STOL transports. Such aircraft are faster than helicopters and can fly at altitudes where they are difficult to engage with “guerrilla MANPADS”, autocannon and HMGs.
They can utilize minor airfields or even stretches of roadway.
Using a fleet of STOL light transports to move personnel would free up larger transports to move heavier equipment. It would also make helicopters available for missions more suited to their capabilities.
That tanks need the support of dismounted troops is well-established. The idea of making a force of dismounts organic to an armoured battalion or company has often been proposed, but has generally not been put into practice in most armies.
The stumbling block often seems to be a reluctance to merge distinct branches of service.
This article details how a tank, tank crew, armored infantry squad and half-track formed a “married”squad, five such pairings making a “married” platoon. While most modern platoons have only four vehicles, other configurations have been used since the Second World War. ROAD-era armoured cavalry platoons had a platoon-leader’s vehicle and two four-vehicle sections, one of tanks and the other of M113s. The HMMWV-mounted cavalry scout platoons had ten vehicles: two vehicles in the HQ section, and four two-vehicle scout sections (FM 17-98, 1999).
In “Mechanized Warfare” Richard E. Simpkin (p.61) suggests a composite platoon of three tanks, three carriers and three dismount elements. This is lead by a HQ section of one tank, a recon/liaison vehicle and one command-variant carrier. The composite company becomes the chief administrative unit and includes a light reconnaissance platoon. This gives the composite company 16 tanks, 12 carriers, 6 command carriers and 9 reconnaissance vehicles.
If a tank is paired with an IFV/APC, the armament of the carrier can counter threats that the tank cannot elevate its main armament to engage.
Richard E. Simpkin suggests that tank-accompanying infantry have a primary role of ensuring that the tanks can keep moving, so such infantry should have a “mobile mentality” of “pausing between thrusts” rather than “moving between positions”.
Col. Wass de Czege suggests that infantry with armoured units orientate on the advance and protection of the tanks. Such troops investigate potential threats and remove obstacles.
It is possible that nomenclature may be part of the problem. The term “armoured infantry”often feeds the fallacy that “non-armoured” infantry should not use heavily armoured transport. While the dismounts with tanks must be capable of fighting on foot, their role is also a combination of scouting and combat engineering. This sounds like the duties of RAC assault troopers in British armoured reconnaissance formations.
It may be productive to adopt a term other than “armoured infantry” for an armoured unit’s dismounted specialists.
The best suggestion I can come up with is “Armoured Pioneer”.
Armoured pioneers should be organic to an armour unit. The armoured force becomes a mixed unit of both tanks and IFVs/APCs that train and fight together.
It may productive for some personnel to rotated between duty as armoured pioneers, tank crews and carrier crews.
As early as the Spanish Civil War, it was recognized that urban terrain neutralized many of the advantages that armoured forces had.
As one British veteran officer (A.F.U. Green, The British Home Guard Pocketbook) remarked: “The tank is a terror at 200 yards, a poor blind beggar when you can touch it.”
In many armies urban combat is still regarded as something of a specialization. Many enemies will choose to engage in urban areas. The strategy of bypassing urban areas can only be taken so far. Warfare is about politics and people, both of which are concentrated in cities.
In an article by Jim Storr in BAR Urban Ops, Vol.2, p.54 he suggest that training for urban combat is too closely based on Second World War experiences.
These emphasized the construction, defence and taking of strong-points.
Storr notes that modern tank guns are considerably more powerful than those used in WW2. A single round may collapse a strongpoint.
Shoulder-launched munitions (SLM) have also advanced. A single foot-soldier can deliver firepower equivalent to a large-calibre artillery shell. Some armies will routinely call down artillery fire or air-strikes on any structure they are fired at from.
Storr advises that attack and defence in an urban environment should be an exercise of mobility rather than position. Troops should be ready to abandon firing positions and relocate before heavy counter-fire is brought to bear.
Like other forms of mobile operation, this is most effective if control is decentralized and decision-making exercised by the leaders of the lowest echelons. Platoon and company leaders need to observe the progress of their subordinate units and direct reinforcements and resources to assist them. Such a system is the opposite to how some conventional armies operate, despite well-worn rhetoric about using manoeuvre warfare.
Some components of urban operations may require positional warfare. This needs to be examined.
A strategy used in Beirut was to not fortify one side or more of a building. If an enemy occupied the building, he had little defence against fire from supporting positions. This was principle used in Vauban’s fortifications, centuries before, and may have applications to rural positions that are likely to be yielded to the enemy.
Cities may seem to have been designed for the motor vehicle, but urban combat favours dismounted fighters. Road systems canalize forces. Dismounted forces can take alternate routes such as through backyards, over roofs or via “mouseholes” between buildings. Urban terrain also provides numerous hiding places and vantage points for the dismounted fighter.
Whilst the city favours dismounted personnel, it is wrong to think of it as an “infantry battle”. It is a combined-arms fight, with engineers, artillery and vehicles playing vital roles.
Tanks in urban terrain can provide fire support, their stabilized weapons and sensors allowing them to engage more distant targets.
Typically dismounted infantry range ahead of the tank, locating targets for the tank and discovering potential threats. A team near the tank can provide close-range defence and act as runners in the event of communication problems. Such a team should not be too close, since vehicles will attract fire.
The main gun elevation of a tank is limited so it is prudent to accompany a tank with a vehicle such as an IFV, APC or AAA that can engage enemies in upper stories.
Enemy attack can come from any direction in an urban environment. Vehicles should be well-armoured and protected by dismounts.
For a tank to bring fire on a target can take several seconds. The vehicle may have to emerge from cover, acquire and fire on the target, then roll back behind cover. The firing position of the vehicle may be fairly predictable.
In contrast, an infantryman, armoured pioneer or engineer with a shoulder-launched munition can “pop-up”, fire and disappear in a much shorter time, and has a far greater choice of firing positions.
Destroying targets with SLMs may often be preferable to exposing tanks to enemy fire.
The number of SLMs a team can carry is limited. A force should include at least one APC, ESV or IFV. Rather than carrying personnel, this vehicle carries a supply of SLMs, smoke bombs and other munitions that may be needed. Useful equipment, such as hook ladders and ballistic shields should be attached to the outside of the vehicles.
Conversely, enemy vehicles may only be exposed for a brief instant as they cross street intersections. There will be insufficient time to acquire and reach such targets with some guided missile systems. Projectile weapons with a short time-of-flight, such as tank-guns, autocannon and direct-fire artillery may be needed.
Vehicles need room to move. Placing too many vehicles in an area may be counter productive. A dismounted infantry company in an urban environment should probably not be accompanied by more than four vehicles. Ideally this should be a mix of useful vehicle types rather than, say, a platoon of just tanks. This American article written just after the Second World War notes that some US forces found that two tanks/vehicles per dismounted infantry platoon were found to be most practical for urban combat.
According to some sources, the Soviet “Storm Groups” of WW2 were platoons accompanied by two tanks, two SP guns or two man-handled towed guns. Other sources make no mention of tanks at this level. Storm Groups were intended to reinforce a building as a strong-point as well as clear it, and the towed guns would be a component of the former.
Combat operations may result in debris in the streets. Attempts to obstruct the streets may be made. Vehicles for urban operations should be tracked to deal with adverse terrain. Tracks also allow a vehicle to slew, allowing it to better negotiate narrow or crowded streets. Vehicles with a large turning circle, such as large, multi-wheeled and poorly armoured APCs, should not be used.
Ideally, vehicles selected for urban operations should mount a dozer blade. This increases frontal protection and can be used to remove obstructions. It can pile up rubble for the protection of infantry and can demolish structures when explosives or weapons fire cannot be used.
The higher a weapon is mounted on a vehicle, the greater the area around a vehicle it cannot fire into at maximum depression. Firing ports are not practical on thickly-armoured vehicles and their visibility is restricted. This is why dismounts must accompany vehicles in urban or other forms of close terrain.
Protecting a vehicle does not mean being physically close to it. Tanks are “shell-magnets” and since as early as the First World War dismounted troops have be advised not to move near tanks. Modern active protection systems may be a hazard to friendly troops. All infantry and armoured pioneers require training and practice in effective ways to protect vehicles.
Veterans of street fighting in the Spanish Civil War often mention the importance of smoke for screening. Decades later, the Russians in Grozny discovered that this still held true.
While white-smoke is a better obscurant, black-smoke looks more “natural” in urban combat. White-smoke means troop movement, black-smoke can have a number of causes.
Properly constructed Molotov cocktails should have an obscurant effect as well as incendiary. Smoke can have a wider effect than flame.
Barbed wire, and its equivalents, can be useful in urban combat. The vulnerability of vehicles on urban battlefields makes wire more of an obstacle for dismounted troops. As with any obstacle, these can be eventually neutralized if not defended.
Suitably defended, a “knife rest” can close off a street but can be easily moved by two men when needed.
An idea that appears in many 1940s manuals is to arrange concertina wire (aka “dannert wire”) into long “U” shapes, the horns towards the expected direction of approach. This was claimed to be effective against [1930s/early-1940s?] tanks. As A.F.U. Green puts it “A heavy tank will go through any amount of taut wire like butter, but a tank going through these bag-nets looks like an Englishman trying to eat spaghetti, and the result is disastrous.”
Wire can be used inside buildings to block corridors or stairwells. Coils of wire positioned on the inner side of walls can hinder assaults that attempt to break through walls.
Paradox of Infantry
“An important factor which the infantryman should remember is, that if he is tired, it is more difficult to shoot straight. Therefore he should never walk if he can ride, he should never, in action, sit down if he can lie and rest. The fresher he is, the more accurate will be his shooting, so when actions are pending, as much sleep and relaxation should be obtained as possible.”
Shooting To Kill (1941)
Andrew G. Elliot.
The term “infantry” means “young men” or “youths” and has a common root with words such as “infant”. Where a language has a word of alternate origin, it usually translates as “foot-soldier”, “walker”, “pedestrian” or similar.
This highlights the key feature of the infantryman. He is a warrior that fights on foot. Perhaps “operates” is a better term than “fights” since this also encompasses such important infantry duties as patrolling, searching and tracking.
The infantryman can go places that vehicles cannot. Armour, artillery and air-power can destroy a building, but only infantry can operate inside one. Where terrain is impassable to military vehicles, the infantryman remains one of the few weapon systems that can be used.
While, strictly speaking, the universal carrier was not an APC, the maxim taught to carrier platoons should be adopted by all infantry and armoured pioneers: “When in doubt, dismount!”
Tactically, the infantryman should be on foot. Racing down a road in a HMMWV is not an infantry patrol. You cannot see tracks and the enemy has ample time to hear you and hide.
In the past the infantryman relied on his feet for strategic mobility too. This should no longer be the case.
The world has mechanized and enemies can travel hundreds of miles in a day. Long distance marching remains a valuable component of training and is a useful capability for troops to have. It should be apparent, however, that in real operations long marches are something to be avoided whenever practical.
This is the paradox of modern infantry. Strategically they must be capable of moving at vehicle speeds yet capable of operating tactically on foot.
To complicate matters, infantry may also be called upon to travel long distances in terrain where vehicles cannot be operated.
Areas that are difficult to access with motor transport tend to be sparsely populated, the two features not being unrelated. This makes such areas attractive locations for activities such as smuggling, drug cultivation, drug processing and terrorist training. Poorly accessible areas may therefore be of considerable military interest.
In actuality, roads in such areas tend to be rare rather than non-existent. For any community of more than a few people supplies will need to be brought in and product shipped out. An operation in a poorly accessible area will need to feature any roads present into its battle plan.
For example, a unit may approach across difficult country but exfiltrate by a supply road. Or control of the road may be achieved to allow a larger force to use it to approach. The enemy may use the road to escape or bring in reinforcements, so some provision for this will be needed.
One way to address the paradox of infantry is to divide all infantry weapons and equipment into two categories:
One category is equipment for foot-mobile operations, the other category equipment only for operations where vehicle transport is available.
For example, an operation against a jungle encampment would require infiltration by foot. The force would take GPMGs but would not take HMGs.
I have talked about the soldier’s load on various other pages. One should not be carrying several days’ food for a four-hour patrol.
Beyond a certain point, giving an infantryman more equipment does not increase his capabilities, it restricts them.
It is important to distinguish between strategic and tactical phases. Note that in this account of Second World War operations, the marching pack was only used for strategic movement.
In the tactical phase, the combat pack or minimalist patrol pack was used. Often any pack was stashed and retrieved after combat. More detail here.
For operations in “vehicle-proof” terrain, considerable thought must be given to what equipment such a force does and doesn’t need.
The quantities of munitions that can be carried is limited, so “Hit-Run” should be the primary tactic. This requires that the unit be mobile and not weighed down by unnecessary gear or excessive quantities of items.
The traditional military rucksac is not the best way to carry loads. Over the past few decades I have suggested many alternatives, including carrying poles, handcarts, travois, Korean chige, cargo bicycles and so on.
Some terrain may permit the use of unconventional vehicles for carrying supplies, rather than personnel. Such a vehicle will need to be capable of navigating a mountain path or jungle trail, so may be some form of ATV quad or an all-terrain variant of the snowmobile.
Ideas such as exo-skeletons and robot “mules” are being proposed. Much quieter forms of engine will be needed, however, since stealth is one of the dismounted infantry force’s main defences.
Most infantry operations, however, will be on “vehicle-feasible” terrain.
In the modern day and age, the use of infantry that are only foot-mobile needs to be approached with caution.
One of the lessons of the “Bravo Two Zero” operation is that if it is possible to use vehicles the enemy will use them even if you choose not to!
Military historians will doubtless cite numerous examples where foot infantry have proved effective against motorized and mechanized forces. The infiltration of tens of thousands of PVA Chinese forces in Korea, 1950, is one example that springs to mind.
In a modern context, and in more developed nations, I believe infiltration operations are more likely to be by vehicle than pedestrian. An “infiltrate by freight” can take a force from the border to a capital in just hours.
A recent example of such an operation was the apparent overnight appearance of “polite green men” in the Ukraine in 2014.
How can an infantry force be best structured to accommodate the varied missions required of it? My personal feeling is that “field platoons” be limited to a man-portable level of equipment.
Ground mobility is provided by an armoured transport platoon with its own organic APCs or IFVs, crews and maintenance staff.
Many modern infantry battalions now operate a large number of vehicles without the infrastructure to support them. The armoured transport platoon is intended to address this. Expanded, this becomes the CAB described on other pages.
In infantry battalions, a CAB will be an attachment, while armoured pioneer units will have an armoured transport section as an organic element.
Ideally each field company has an armoured transport platoon for each field platoon. Some battalions may have a lower allocation of vehicles and therefore have their armoured transport platoons as a separate company. When not transporting infantry, the armoured transport vehicles are used transport supplies forward to deployed units.
New Skills for Infantry
Potentially, line infantry are some of a nation’s most versatile assets. Missions range from disaster relief to major warfare. They can attack or defend but also control and preserve.
If we look at the threats we are currently likely to face now and in the near future, it becomes obvious that effective infantry will be needed.
The erroneous idea that counter-terrorism is just a special forces role needs to be finally quashed. Infantry will be needed to man checkpoints, patrol infiltration routes and support police operations.
The main defence against “pop-up” terror attacks is defence in depth, with armed response never more than a few blocks away.
Whilst there is currently much hand-wringing and bed-wetting over police looking like soldiers, a good case can be made for the infantry to acquire more police skills and techniques to better serve them in the security role.
Logically, some infantry units may evolve into gendarme-type forces with both civil and military roles.
Less-lethal weapons (LLW) need to become an integral part of infantry capability.
Some readers will maintain the view that infantry are best used to hold ground rather than keep the peace. It would be prudent to revisit Mao’s statement that infantry should be capable of conducting guerrilla, mobile or positional warfare and capable of readily switching between these modes.
When it comes to defensive infantry operations, the traditional “field of foxholes” so familiar in the past may become less common.
Urban terrain is an effective counter to enemy mechanized forces. Numerous urban conflicts in recent decades have confirmed this continues to be the case. Since the enemy objective may be in a city, there may be little point in creating major defences outside that city.
Except in forest or jungle, large defensive works in rural areas are easily located. Their construction and location may have been impossible to conceal from satellites, drones, local spies and aircraft.
Once located, defensive works in rural areas can be easily targeted by air and artillery bombardment or avoided.
The construction of defences is much easier to conceal in urban terrain. The use of air-strikes or artillery against suspected positions in urban areas may be politically problematic.
Where entrenchments are used in rural areas, it is possible that most will be deep bombardment shelters or well-camouflaged positions such as observation posts and spider-holes.
Existing terrain features will be improved, particularly when they are already concealed from aerial observation. What fighting positions are used are likely to be multiple “hasty” positions, allowing weapon crews to rapidly relocate when one position comes under fire.
Forces will probably deploy at a fairly low density, employing hit-and-run tactics and vacating positions as they are located.
Such tactics will have an influence on the form of earthworks and how much effort is allocated to their construction.
The stratagem of deep battle advocates the defeat of an enemy by attacking his “centres of gravity (COG)”. COGs include leadership and command centres, communication nodes, supply systems and artillery fire-bases.
The stratagem is based on two assumptions: That the enemy has COGs, and that they can be located and identified.
Since destruction rather than occupation is usually the objective, COGs are best attacked by fire rather than manoeuvre.
Attack aircraft and helicopters are a possible means, although this will prove problematic if the enemy has competent air defence systems.
Suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) is obviously a priority for any other systems used for deep strike.
Until the airspace can be made safer, the responsibility for deep fires will rest with the artillery.
Artillery in some armies has been somewhat neglected, the assumption being that air-power can do the job instead. Logically, it will be seen that an environment conductive to the use of air-power is unlikely to be created without effective use of some other means such as artillery systems.
Currently most artillery batteries are based around howitzers, typically of 105-155mm calibre. While these are useful for tactical support and short-range interdiction, they may lack the reach for operational-level deep fires. Some MBRL systems out-range howitzers, but these are only a partial answer.
A recent trend has been the application of long-range ATGWs in over-the-horizon (OTH) precision-strike roles. Use of ATGWs as artillery and by artillery batteries is likely to increase, but this only partially meets the deep-strike requirement.
Artillery will also need longer-ranged systems such as ground-launch cruise and theatre-ballistic missiles.
Another weapon system with potential for deep fires are UAVs, aka “drones”. Admittedly, the line between cruise missile and drone is somewhat blurred and artificial. It has already been proposed that some future cruise missiles will deploy sub-munitions and return to base for re-use.
The endurance and relatively slow speed of a drone or drone swarm allows it to actively search for an enemy COG if the exact location is uncertain.
Guided weapons that search for targets are already in use. The drone or drone swarm has the advantage that it can conduct such behaviours for more than a few minutes. It has also been suggested that the endurance of a swarm may allow it to loiter over an attacked target, effectively “occupying and suppressing” the area for a time.
We may soon see a number of drone-based deep strike systems included in the capabilities of artillery formations.
The ability to “eyeball” a target first is something that artillery have previously needed to rely on third parties for.
Many artillery and mortar units now have their own reconnaissance drones. Potentially, reconnaissance drones could be deployed over a potential target by shell, missile or rocket.
Artillery systems are an important element of deep-strike, but improvements are needed if they are to have operational-level effects rather than just tactical.
Deep fires have little use without suitable targets, so the value of good reconnaissance and intelligence cannot be overstressed.
While enemy COGs are better destroyed by shell rather than bayonet, there is still a requirement for deep manoeuvre.
At the tactical level, the presence of a force of armour and infantry are more likely to disrupt an enemy than an artillery strike. Ideally both fires and manoeuvre forces are used in combination.
At an operational level, ground forces may be used when the exact location of enemy CODs is uncertain. The raiding party may serve as protection for the reconnaissance elements actually used to locate the enemy, and the targets found may still be destroyed by artillery, although this artillery may or may not be part of the manoeuvre group.
Rather than breaking through an enemy’s defensive lines, an air-mechanized operational manoeuvre force may be airlifted into enemy territory if air defences have been sufficiently suppressed.
Operational manoeuvre forces may be used when it is necessary to capture or occupy a target rather than to destroy it.
Most conflicts are not over until tanks are in the capital and infantry in the palace.