Tag Archives: infantry

The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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On Mechanization and Combined Arms.

While the tank was invented and initially fielded during World War I, World War II was really the first conflict to feature large scale armor formations, and put the theory of the tank into practice. Considerable thought had gone into the best doctrine for the use of the tank between the wars. Some doctrines were more successful than others. In the US during the interwar years, there were two primary schools of thought. Cavalry saw the tank as a replacement for the horse*, a means of rapid movement on the battlefield to turn flanks, raid the enemy rear, and exploit breakthroughs. Tanks should be light and fast. The tank would be the decisive arm, and all others should support it. The Infantry primarily saw the tank as a direct fire support asset for the rifleman. Tanks should be slow and heavy. The Infantry would be the decisive arm, and all others should support it.

That’s a gross oversimplification of the schools of thought, but sufficient for now. But a funny thing happened on the way to victory in World War II- it turned out, both major schools of thought were wrong.

The original US table for an armored division had two regiments of tanks, and one regiment of Armored Infantry, mounted on half-track personnel carriers. But it quickly became apparent that the “heavy” division was unwieldy, and, more critically, lacked enough infantrymen. Aside from the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions, eventually all US armored divisions in World War II would adopt a “light” table, with one regiment of tanks, and one regiment of armored infantry. In effect, the ratio of tanks to infantry went from 2-1 to 1-1. And by the end of the war, it wasn’t uncommon for an armored division to be augmented with extra infantry battalions, or even a regiment from a regular infantry division, in essence giving a ratio of 1-2.

Today we think of the tank as the ultimate tank killer. But prior to World War II, and indeed, through most of the war, US doctrine held that the very last thing tanks should be used for was killing tanks. That’s a large part of why the M4 Sherman was initially fielded with a rather anemic 75mm gun. The gun was quite suited for firing on bunkers and pillboxes. It’s rather poor performance against armor wasn’t thought to be a major handicap. By the end of the war, both the thinking on the best means of killing tanks, and the main armament had changed.

After the war, the rough numbers of infantry units to armor units was generally maintained at around 1-1. Armored Infantry eventually gave way to what we today call mechanized infantry. Carriers for the infantry have evolved from the half track through the M75 and M59 Armored Personnel Carriers, to the long serving M113 to todays M2 Bradley family.

In whatever vehicle they used, mechanized Infantry formations were always expected to operate alongside tank formations, with each arm supporting the other. Both armored and mechanized infantry divisions contained a balanced mix of tank and mech infantry units.

The fielding of the Bradley family, heavy on firepower, but light on numbers of actual infantrymen, made sense in western Europe when the US faced a Soviet Union with massive numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles, including thousands of BMP fighting vehicles and and BTR armored personnel carriers. Interestingly, the Soviets too had balanced formations of infantry and armor, though their mix of “motorized rifle” formations had a rough mix of one BMP formation (heavy on firepower, lighter on dismount infantry) to two BTR formations (light on firepower, heavy on dismount infantry).

The US saw the Bradley as needed to whittle down the numbers of Soviet vehicles. The problem was, the compromises needed to mount both an automatic cannon and the TOW missile launcher meant that something had to give, and that was the number of dismount infantrymen per vehicle. Whereas for many years the rifle squad was 11 or twelve men, eventually it shrank to 9 men. But in Bradley units, each Bradley could only deploy six, or maybe seven dismounts. And that’s under the cheery assumption that the unit was at 100% strength.

While that was generally acceptable for western Europe facing the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG), for other theaters, that left a dearth of dismounts available for those missions that require large numbers of troops actually on the ground.

That lack of actual numbers of infantry, when history has shown that large numbers of infantry are required on the combined arms battlefield, was part of the impetus for the introduction of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The Stryker is often belittled in comparison to both the Bradley, and the M113. But the Stryker is not a replacement for either. Rather, it is a recognition that earlier light infantry units simply didn’t have the operational mobility to move around the battlefield. The weapon of the Stryker BCT isn’t the Stryker vehicle, it is the dismount rifleman.

No real point to all of this. Just putting some random thoughts down.

 

*Of course, not all Cavalry officers thought this. Many right up until about 1940 still saw the horse as a viable weapon of war.

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The Brigade Cavalry Squadron

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ea/Flickr_-_The_U.S._Army_-_%27cavalry_charge%27.jpg

Long ago, in the mists of time, back before the Army reorganized around the Brigade Combat Team concept, the Army was organized primarily around the Division as the primary tactical unit of deployment and employment. Each division had 9 or 10 maneuver battalions (either Infantry or Armor) organized into three Brigades.

Each Infantry or Armor battalion had a Scout Platoon, designed to provide reconnaissance, or what today would be called RSTA, for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition.

The Division also had a Cavalry Squadron, essentially an RSTA battalion, with two ground troops and two aviation troops.

Most of the Army division was organized along a fairly triangular scheme, with headquarters at each level controlling three maneuver units, and appropriate supporting elements. One glaring omission in this bygone era was the gap between battalion and division. The Brigades had no organic RSTA assets. You would expect to see a company/troop sized RSTA element at the Brigade level. Instead, there was none. The Division Commander might task his Cav squadron to focus support to one or two of the three Brigades, but usually he needed it to focus on his own RSTA priorities.

So when the Army reorganized and shifted the focus from the Division to the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), one thing they did was assign a very robust RSTA capability. Each maneuver battalion would keep its organic Scout Platoon, and the BCT would have an entire RSTA squadron (or battalion sized element, if you will).

Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan called for increasing the numbers of BCTs in the Army. And while there was some increase in the allowed end-strength of the Army, it wasn’t nearly enough to provide the manpower for all the new BCTs.

So the Army cheated. It would stand up new BCTs, each with, among other things, their own RSTA battalion (which carried the unit designations of various historical Cavalry Squadrons). But instead of each BCT having three regular maneuver battalions, they would only have two. So the prime maneuver combat power of the BCT was reduced by a third. What wasn’t reduced was the missions these BCTs were required to perform. And so, as Tripp Callaway tells us in his article, the Cavalry RSTAs in Iraq and Afghanistan were often pressed into duty as a third maneuver battalion.

This meant that, in effect, most RSTAs were usually utilized as miniature infantry battalions and were thus given corresponding direct combat and COIN tasks to perform, rather than the traditional reconnaissance and flank security tasks they were designed to accomplish.

In the COIN warfare of the War on Terror, that was an acceptable choice.

But should the Army find itself in battle with a more conventional foe, it is imperative that the RSTA should be used in its designed, traditional role.

The Army has a relatively small number of BCTs. And those BCTs are actually fairly fragile, though they have a great deal of combat power. The trick is finding exactly where and when to apply that power, and denying any enemy the opportunity to apply his combat power against us. Finding the enemy, his order of battle, his dispositions and his intentions  while denying the enemy information about our forces and dispositions is the traditional Cavalry mission.

But what about UAVs, you ask? As Callaway notes, in any conflict against a more conventional foe, UAVs will be vulnerable, both to direct measures like Air Defense, and to jamming or cyber attacks such as network intrusions. And for true, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, there’s no substituting the man on the ground. UAVs complement, not replace, a traditional approach to ISR.

As Callaway makes the central thesis of his piece, the use of RSTA units as conventional units has meant that their traditional Cavalry skills have atrophied. Just as bad, the “end user” of their product has also forgotten how to ask for or use their “product.”

Our austere budget environment has lead to a drawdown of the number of BCTs the Army will have. But it is not all darkness. One effect of the drawdown is that the remaining BCTs will receive a third maneuver battalion. This will (hopefully) free up the RSTA to return to their traditional role.

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First Four Female Marines complete Marine Infantry training.

Stars and Stripes brings us the news that four female Marines will graduate from The Infantry School.

For the first time, four female Marines have successfully completed the service’s enlisted infantry training and will graduate from the program, the Marine Corps Times is reporting.

The four were among a group of 15 enlisted women who were the first to participate in a Marine Corps study to determine which ground combat jobs should be open to women.

The Marines’ enlisted infantry training includes a grueling 20-kilometer hike wearing more than 80 pounds of gear. Seven women began the Oct. 28 hike. Three women and 26 of 246 men did not finish it, the Marines said.

Throughout the infantry training, the women were held to the same standards as men, including performing full pull-ups instead of a flexed-arm hang during the physical fitness test, the Marine Corps Times said.

A 74% attrition rate actually tells us it is folly to send women to TIS. It costs time, money, and training resources to send people to school. TIS isn’t a “weedout” course like Special Forces. The majority of attendees are expected to successfully complete the course.
So again, the diversity zampolits are sacrificing the good of the service for the optics of equality.
This isn’t to knock the accomplishments of the four Marines, just to note that just because something CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done.

Via: TAH

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The Rifle Squad as the Decisive Force

A year or two ago, in discussing small infantry units, Esli mentioned that the current doctrinal emphasis of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (formerly, the Infantry School) was on making the rifle squad more lethal, more effective, more of an overmatch to the enemy equivalent.

The current US Army 9 man rifle squad* versus an enemy of comparable size has several significant advantages, and yet also faces serious disadvantages.

First, US squads tend to be better educated and better trained in infantry combat, in both the technical and tactical aspects.  They are virtually never without some type of supporting fires on call, from machine gun teams and anti-armor weapons at the squad level, company and battalion level mortar fire, through brigade and higher level artillery, and even close air support.

The soldiers of the rifle squad have body armor, clothing and load bearing equipment that is far better than their opponents. Their food is healthier, and less likely to lead to illness. Their communications are generally better. His night vision devices are almost always far more capable than the enemy’s.

But the US rifle squad also has its problems…

That body armor and load bearing equipment leads to soldiers carrying loads that severely limit the mobility and agility of the squad. These same heavy loads also lead to an increase in sports type injuries.  Rules of engagement often delay or prevent supporting fires from higher echelons from joining the fight in a timely manner. That healthful and nutritious food is heavy, further increasing the soldier’s load, and tying him to a logistical chain. His communications and night vision devices all require large amounts of battery power, all of which has to be manpacked.

As to weapons, frankly small arms are small arms. We can spend the next fifty years debating the relative merits of the M16/M4 family versus the AK family that have spent the last fifty years fighting one another.  But neither weapon so overmatches the other as to be decisive. The same is true for any other weapons found in the rifle squad or the threat squad.

So, today we find ourselves in a situation where a US squad can pretty much hold its own with any similar sized threat. And generally, it will come out better than the enemy.

But that isn’t the goal. The goal, the desire is to be confident that virtually any time a US squad encounters an enemy formation of similar size, the US squad can fix it, fight it, finish it, hunting it down and destroying it. Today, most squad on squad engagements are not decisive- either one or the other force breaks contact and lives to fight another day.

Comes now news that the Army commissioned a study by the National Research Council, who came to the conclusion that the problem is, the squad isn’t well equipped.

Now, in the context I just shared with you, that sounds kinda nuts. One of the primary problems the dismounted infantry squad faces is the crushing burden of carrying the stuff they already have.

But the report does make some sense. The Army has spent untold billions designing network centric warfare capabilities the give commanders unprecedented ability to “see” the battlefield.  A commander can know almost instantly where his forces are, and with support from UAVs and other intel assets, very often where enemy forces are, even before the battle is joined.

But once a squad leaves its vehicles, it is cut off from this network. Its only data stream, if you will, is voice radio. And the “bandwidth” of voice radio is awfully narrow. It is very, very difficult to transmit a clear tactical picture through words alone, especially absent the non-verbal cues humans routinely use in face to face communications.  Even with standardized formats, the limits to how much information can pass from the squad to higher, or from higher down to the squad is very limited.

In the past, we’ve mentioned the possibility of using smart phones on the battlefield to increase the dismount squad’s ability to access data, rather than just voice. And there’s some hope for that. But smart phones aren’t exactly set up to run on Army tactical radio networks. Further, a smart phone is not the most ergonomic way to present information. You know it is foolhardy to text and drive. How much more foolhardy is it to text and shoot? So a more “heads up” method of presenting the information in an intuitive manner will eventually be needed.

And whatever technology comes along, it will have to weigh less than the current state of the art. And not only will it have to weigh less, its batteries will have to weigh much less.

Further, for all the advantages technology may in the future give the squad, it is not without its own burdens, even beyond simple weight. Every piece of equipment calls for maintenance and training, both of which take time. And time available for training is limited. What other training should the squad sacrifice to achieve competency in these new technologies?

Do we sacrifice time spent on marksmanship? Fire and movement? First aid? Weapons maintenance? Map reading? Sexual assault awareness and prevention training? Language and cultural training for upcoming deployments? It isn’t like there isn’t enough on the plate already.

The report also pings Big Army for spending far more money and attention on big ticket acquisition programs than on the bread and butter of everyday stuff used at the squad level.  The Program Executive Officer for Command and Control technologies is a Major General. The PEO for small arms is a Colonel, who, judging by the fact he’s been there for several years, ain’t a “comer” for stars.

So what do we do?  I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure, absent a far greater willingness to take casualties, we can make the rifle squad capable of decisively defeating a threat squad.

And I’m not even sure that should be the goal. The great strength of the Army, and indeed all our services, has long, long been not so much our technology, but our ability to “systemize our systems.”

In an artillery duel, the US doesn’t fight gun against gun. It pits US target acquisition, communications, fire control, guns and ammunition (as well as soldiers, doctrine, and training) against the foe. And no other nation has shown the talent for tying together these elements to effectively produce a whole  far greater than the sum of their parts. I’ve used artillery here as an example, but the general rule applies across the entire armed forces.  The challenge is to continue to understand that technology is a tool that enables this synchronization, and not a substitute for it.

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*Marine rifle squads have thirteen members. Basically, they add an extra fire team to each squad.

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BIG! Mortars

We’ve written before about mortars being the infantry commander’s “hip pocket artillery.”* And in our Army, mortars are infantry weapons, separate from the Field Artillery.  Currently, our Army fields 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger mortars.  Israel and several other countries use 160mm mortars. And the current largest mortar in service is the Russian 240mm mortar.

That’s a pretty hefty tube.

It’s odd to see a weapon that has a rotary magazine and power loading and yet the each round has to have its primary and booster charges hand applied. I mean, really? Tying the “cheeses” on with string?

Looks like some guided and rocket assisted shells in there too.

*well, Infantry, Armor and Cavalry- basically each ground maneuver battalion has its own mortars.

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Being a grunt sucks hard. Being a Russian grunt sucks harder.

We sometimes forget that for all our 12 years of the Global War on Terror, Russia has been fighting off and on since 1979.  And Ivan has never been particularly solicitous about the welfare of his  riflemen.

This video is long. 50 minutes long. And it is in Russian. I neither speak nor read Russian, so it’s hard to be sure, but I’d guess that most of the footage is from various campaigns against separatists in Chechnya. Some is obviously captured footage from the rebels, but most of it seems to be simply the same type of footage that American troops would take.

Be advised, there are parts that are very graphic.

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