2017/06/19

Self discipline and light weight

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I have argued a bit in favour of light weight equipment lately, which goes back to a need for high dismounted mobility for survivability which goes back to quick lethal indirect fires which go back to digitised artillery fire control with quick positionfinding which is really a problem because counterfires to arty have become really difficult because of deployment of individual shoot & scoot SPGs instead of batteries because of eased accurate navigation and of course there's the general improvement of accuracy due to said navigation improvements which eliminates the ranging shots so arty fires can proceed with lethal fires with first shot, and autoloaders improved MRSI so you need fewer SPGs for extremely lethal surprise fires ... it's a long rad tail of innovations and their higher order effects. In the end, my conclusion is that infantry needs to relocate by much more than 100 m within 2 minutes (at most 4 minutes) of being detected in order to survive.
Yet infantrymen aren't going to crawl & run by 200-500 m every few minutes or so if burdened by an average of about 30 kg and up to about 37 kg of equipment. That's not what humans do, period.

The comments to my utterances about lightweight equipment - here and through other channels - have often shown one typical answer, paraphrased it was
'but I have this pet toy that I'd like to be used, and those few more kilograms are totally OK, don't make much of a difference in themselves'.

That's exactly how one gets overburdened infantry that instinctively gives up on high agility, high mobility tactics.

The challenge is not to develop lightweight equipment. The challenge is to resist adding weight. Any weight. There is a famous and ingenious Bundeswehr cutlery set that I personally use for camping - it weighs 205 grams. I point at a titanium cutlery set instead. The 40 gram type, not the 42 gram type. Because weight.

One has to do this across the board, muster self-discipline at all times. Forget the Pareto analysis (optimising the biggest items  that make up 80% of the weight, for supposedly optimising the rest isn't worth the effort). I think we're at a time where infantry has to be lightly equipped first and foremost, in order to have the necessary agility (better freedom of movement by more choice of feasible routes) and mobility. Infantry doctrine should emphasize
  1. stealth (fieldcraft, to avoid detection most of the time and particularly in the approach)
  2. agility & mobility + smoke (all for breaking contact in time)
  3. burst small arms firepower at up to 300 m distance for up to 2 minutes duration (not necessarily a "mad minute", but rather surprise salvoes; hit & (over)run)
  4. ability to call for support fires quickly and accurately under ECM influence (primarily brigade-level artillery)
This would be largely the same for mechanised infantry, though with an additional emphasis on the ability to call for/direct line of sight fire support by the tanks.
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All of this is to some degree already part of infantry doctrines, just as assault on trenches was not unknown prior to the First World War. The change that I advocate is about focus; it's about what to favour when you have to make a trade-off. I favour the four points above, and much falls aside for this
  1. long range small arms fires (past 300 m), including medium/universal 7.62 mm machineguns and the fashionable DMRs
  2. anti-MBT firepower in an infantry squad at all times (instead, merely issue anti-MBT equipment when there's an anti-MBT mission)
  3. bulletproofing against rifle calibre carbine's bullets
  4. cartridge provisioning for undisciplined fires, mad minutes, psychological relief shots or extended suppressive fires etc.
  5. storage space on the chest; big silhouettes are incompatible with stealth
I did over the years change (gradually) on some points
  1. no more advocacy of the always fashionable intermediate cartridge for dismounted troops (though I still favour something like .338 for mounted use instead of 7.62 and .50cal)
  2. largely gave up on light frag protection for legs and arms
  3. largely gave up on infantry anti-MBT munitions, which I considered as self-evident because that's the mainstream if not consensus thinking
  4. gave up on some pet items of my own because they were too heavy to advocate for

So I did some mental sacrifices myself in pursuit of self-discipline and focus.

Now the question is whether any major Western army will actually revise its infantry doctrine (the field manuals still look largely as in the 80's, save for additions about GPS, peacekeeping missions,  wars of occupation and such) and then consequently change its ways of equipping, organising, training and handling infantry small units.

The alternative is in my opinion that they would get a terribly bloody nose in the next peer conflict and would need to improvise such changes on the quick, with what's left of the infantry NCO force in order to train raw recruits in the new ways.

The (paraphrased) 'find the enemy, fix him from behind cover, wait till fire support kills the enemy' approach of one-sided clashes of Western resources-rich forces with bare bones paramiliary opposition sure did not force such changes on us. It forced such changes on them. Have you seen any insurgents with 28 kg of equipment carried lately? I kid you not - such heavily burdened insurgents weren't uncommon in earlier centuries.


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13 comments:

  1. 'find the enemy, fix him from behind cover, wait till fire support kills the enemy'

    When done with artillery or mortars is a whole different story instead of CAS.

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    1. The problem with the approach in a peer conflict is that you have a 50/50 chance of being the one whose support arrives first.

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    2. It would be MAD since the opposing force will have their rounds airborne or about to be by the time first rounds come down. Then you got at max time of flight to flee the area. Allthough this is based on the assumption that both will act similarly, both contact the supporting battery/company on first try, their target accusition is on point and so on. The one who has the element of surprise will come out as winner in most cases unless comms fail. So it's not so black and white as say it to be. Your point of view is too systematic as if the outcome is result of technicalities. Not to mention status of the supporting battery/company, are they conducting another fire mission, does the caller have priority and so on.

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    3. TehFinn, my assumption is of course that the infantry has to do its part for 'excellence'. Infantry can win quite easily if all the other parts of combines ´d arms are superior. Infantry may be surprised and call for support fires a minute later and still win if its artillery is 2 minutes quicker.
      That's the attitude of the occupation wars; leave the winning to others, stay safe behind cover.

      Moreover, an infantry squad leader doesn#t know the status of friendly support assets or even hostile support assets in a peer conflict. He has to assume that the enemy's are top notch and must not rely on the friendly ones for survival or else his squad will be gone much sooner.

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    4. Well, not going to argue about excellence since everyone's going to aim for that.

      An article in finnish artillery magazine recently talked about shift in relationship between infantry and artillery. Earlier artillery supported infantry and now infantry covers FOs so artillery can deal as much damage as possible.

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  2. One of your best articles on infantry i read and one can
    even extend this concept to other parts of the military too. To the opposite most soldiers always want more and more and more and the results in the infantry sector for example then look like this:

    http://www.afghanistan-connection.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ausr%C3%BCstung1-e1405690964757.jpg

    No firepower but endless mass of senseless add on equipment. Doing much more with much less is the only solution and should be the heart of our doctrine.

    One main problem before any others is the overemphasis on protection (body armour) which can be observed in the Western TM militaries and also in the police forces now. The priorities must be stealth, mobility and firepower and a prior on protection constrain all of them heavily. The same with tanks, the same with many other systems.

    Going ultra lightweight to the opposite enhances all this absolut necessities and can only be achieved by going ultra light weight in every litte aspect.

    I am doing Ultra Light Trekking since several years and it is amazing how your perfomance improves if you spare kg after kg until the weight of your equipment seems to be nothing. I walk without strain faster and much longer than any other trekker.

    But you have to compensate the missing equipment: 1 with skills, 2 with abstinence (as you mentioned)

    The 1 point is of utomost importance. Today soldiers fear to much and feel unsave because of their miitary and social culture and lack the necessary skills to live from the land and without all their toys.

    But using super ultralight trekking skills you can even bring down the weight of your equipment to 2,5 kg per soldier and even lower - without weapons. Every kg you spare you can then invest in stealth and firepower without becoming heavy at all.

    The greatest annoyance in my oppinion is the technological standstill in infantry weapons in which we even tody fight with systems like the AR-15 of Vietnam War origin but technology would be availabe since years to make here dramatic improvements. Infantry could get increadible weapons which are ultra light weight and with much more firepower than anything today available. This is a great mistake and the financial ressources are instead invested in a blue water navy (for example). Moreover i think improving infantry weapons dramatically would be one this technological steps beyond mutual cancellation which most enemies would underestimate for a longer time.

    For example compare the performance and the weight sparings of an rifle with caseless flechette ammunition or even an rifle with liquid propellant and a separation of propellant and "bullet" (flechetes) with an conventional 5,56mm NATO AR-15 rifle. Such rifles would be lighter, had much more firing power, more magazin capacity, no body armour would work against them and in the case of liquid propellants the battlefield zero would be enourmous and moreover the penetrating power so immense that you can than beginn to fire through tank armour of lighter tanks (more penetration than an 14,5mm SMG).

    And if you spare weight in your other equipment to the extreme (2,5 kg per soldier) you have tremendous weight free for firepower and you are still very lightweight and mobile to the extreme.

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    1. Well, regarding to lightweight firearms the LSAT polymer telescoped cartridge seems to offer the best compromise without sacrificing too much firepower and range.
      Flechette munitions did not prove really successful back in the 80's when they were the hype. Liquid propellant fuel will almost certainly be ready for shipboard or SPG use long before for small arms use.

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  3. Flechette proved that they were very superior to conventional ammunition, but because the production was to expensive they did not make it. The high costs resulted from the difficult manufactoring prozess (very small tolerances and very elaborate procedures to produce the flechettes with the necessary very little tolerances. This was in a time without modern computer/robotic abilities and today this main true problem of flechettes (the production costs) could be solved.

    >>Liquid propellant fuel will almost certainly be >>ready for shipboard or SPG use long before for >>small arms use.

    That is exactly the point: everybody invests big sums in big systems (blue water navy, war-ships, extremly expensive aircraft and so on) and the infantry weapons are uncared for. With only a part of the sum for new fregattes and so on it would be possible to arm the infantry with absolutly superior equipment. But instead a Vietnam ära system is regarded as an improvement.

    One main point in this context are the so called future infantry programms of many militaries which go completly in the wrong direction, for example the IDZ System of the bundeswehr. All this systems make the soldiers more heavy and hinder their mobility, lessen their stealth and has a near to nothing advantage in infantry combat against peer enemies. One simple look at the following picutes show everythint that is wrong with this infantry systems:

    http://www.offiziere.ch/wp-content/uploads/idz-es_2010-001.jpg

    http://it-spots.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/5101724610_661ecf7472_b.jpg

    No firepower, no stealth, no mobility, but rigid command and control with strict orders (befehlstaktik) because no commanding officer will resist the possibilites for micro-management and the attempt to operate even the lowest levels.

    Which again leads to the point that you can only go realy lightweight if have the necessary skills because one must (can!) compensate equipment with skills.

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  4. A lot of money invested in ships and planes but not in the infantry - General Scales's pet peeve. When most the killing is done by HE the need for new small arms doesn't seem necessary.

    To get back to the point of the blog post it's clear our troops carry too much crap. It's also afflicting law enforcement where police used to wear a simple uniform and duty belt to now wearing a ton of crap inlcluding chest rigs.

    But, with the belief that body armor is a magic savior, commands order troops to wear heavy body armor. Now, it has saved a lot of dudes, but would have different tactics and greater agility been just as effective? Good question.

    What is needed IMO is instantaneous fire support. As soon as you are hit, direction determined and support arrives on target. Same with initiating contact. I'm not talking about FO or JTAC - something faster, fire support in a constant overwatch. But it can't be so obvious to identify or locate you to the enemy. Maybe Sven has some ideas?

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    1. Some solutions exist, but not useful ones against competent peer opponents.
      Ground forces can give each other overwatch (leap frogging), and one may have redundancy of fields of fire if there's enough concentration of forces, that's it.

      I suppose to avoid being surprised (stealth) is #1 approach (it also helps if artillery radars' info about predicted impact points would alert anyone at or close to predicted impact point before impact).
      To break contact ASAP (with generous use of instant smoke if necessary) when in trouble is #2.
      #3 Deception may serve its purpose by exposing threats and wasting their munitions.

      Finally, there's "hugging"; getting so close to enemy infantry that enemy fire support doesn't dare to shoot. That's another reason for a preference for short infantry combat ranges.

      Wars of occupation where the own arty is constricted by fratricide risks and there's no hostile arty lead to the opposite impression; there you WANT to fight at distances greater than the minimum safe distance (terminology varies by country, distances vary by siting, calibre, terrain and munition type).

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    2. Dirk Diggler:

      The answer is to give the infantry more HE firepower and for that you need new infantry small arms because the existing ones that deliver such firepower are to heavy.

      And you can even think it from the other side: because small arms of the infantry are so bad they have not much effect. The most killing is done by HE especilly because the small arms are so old and bad. With systems like Tracking Point, liquid / flechette ammunition and so on even KEP small arms would become very good and could even begin to fight light tanks for their own. Moreover against such weapons no kind of body armour would work any more and hitting the enemy would become possible even in worst conditions because of immense battlefield zero, high first hit probaility even against moving targets and much more ammunition for the same weight so you can shoot much more without running low on ammo.

      And the weapons at the same time would become even much lighter.

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  5. My personal experience - and this was in the pre-manditory-body-armor era - was that sleeping kit was the biggest weight problem.

    Even the lightest sleeping bag is fairly heavy, and bulky. The lighter the bag, the colder the sleep, so infantry fighting where the nights get cold have to choose between fighting light and freezing at night. This seems to have been - per the Mauldin cartoon - a very old problem; typically combat grunts tend to ditch the fartsacks and then have to improvise solutions to the cold nights. Not sure if there IS a perfect technical solution to that...but, at least in the 1980s the US Army was a generation behind the civilian backpacking community that had largely gone ahead to lightweight polymer fabrics and insulation while the Army was still lugging around the old cloth and woolen bags...

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