Russian battalion tactical groups

by CPT Nicolas J. Fiore

There's an inaccuracy regarding the "2013" date in the article and the author's matching up of a U.S.Army BCT with a smaller Russian BTG is weird and his primitive economics argument at the end is off as well*, but these points aside it's a very interesting piece.

The Russians are maintaining the pressure in the Donbas conflict by rotating personnel from several brigades into and out of the theatre; the battalion tactical groups are the in-Donbass area forces.

The concept of having a core of heavily equipped mostly professional troops supporting many lesser and smaller forces around them is interesting, and mirrors a concept of my own. The lightly equipped mercenary forces that receive such support provide security in return.

An all-regular forces concept of this kind could involve Jagdkommandos (detached reinforced infantry platoons) supported by a battalion battlegroup with communication nodes/relays, data downlinks, medical support, tanks, non-portable drones, resupply points, intelligence-gathering, artillery fires, engineering equipment, NBC detection, radar surveillance, electronic warfare and even area air defences. That's basically a list of all those things in modern 1st world land forces that grow the tail in the tooth:tail ratio.

I don't think that this would be a sensible approach for the first weeks of a conflict, and it would be very difficult to pull off in a very mobile phase, but it makes a lot of sense for when the hot conflict slowed down, and mobilised reserves provide much infantry while heavy arms (MBTs, SPGs) have become rare. The Polish effort to create infantry-centric militia forces could be interpreted in this light.

Returning to my idea; I actually pondered the concept of using mechanised brigades (each 2-3 spaced battlegroups and a support group) as forces in-being, providing an umbrella of support to dispersed and small unit-centric forces (mechanised skirmishers, light infantry). Only once the battlefield was shaped in an advantageous way or overly aggressive opposing forces behaviour forced the hand would such brigades turn into the mode of operations that's standard doctrine nowadays.

That's quite a contrast to the aggressive pursuit of tank battles known from 1967 and 1973 and also a huge departure from Blitzkrieg or Deep Battle recipes of the 1930's and 1940's.


P.S.: I should mention that the whole thing about the BTG reminds me of the Vietnam firebases; small outposts with howitzers that dominated the surrounding area because their howitzer fires gave infantry patrols an advantage over less-supported opposing forces infantry.

*: I made a similar argument in the past, but one needs to remember that exports only finance imports, not government consumption. Government consumption can be supported with domestic resources if a country is as large as Russia. It wouldn't be pretty, but it's possible. Strong exports make a high government consumption much easier and ultimately increase the maximum sustainable spending level, though.


The brigade's ideal MRL

First, let me dump a lot of links to previous and related blog posts (not last, as I do usually):

I also wrote before - and stand by it because physics didn't change - that traditional (area fires) multiple rocket launchers are a poor choice for mobile warfare. Their munitions are much more bulky and also heavier than howitzer munitions of equivalent effect - with and without packaging.
It's extremely difficult to reliably resupply a battalion battlegroup engaged in mobile warfare on every 2nd or 3rd day (forget daily resupply if you're in a defensive war*). Any force structure choice that makes logistical support even more difficult and/or less reliable is at least highly questionable. 
NATO armies largely gave up on multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) as area fires weapons, though; there's still no "dumb" HE rocket for MLRS in widespread use, even though the old cluster munitions were banned and phased out of service by most MLRS users in NATO.

Instead, the modern MRL tends to be a (not even necessarily well-protected) truck with a limited choice of guided missiles (PGMs) for point targets, often well out of range of conventional howitzer munitions (though this may change). PGMs are expensive and thus relatively few - compared to the old warstocks of DPICM rockets. The logistical concerns don't apply to MRLs in manoeuvre forces any more if the main munition are PGMs.

Years ago I mentioned - without appropriate emphasis - that a MRL could also be employed for area air defence (actually, modern 155 mm L/52 SPGs also have some serious potential in that role with PGMs). I'll put proper emphasis on this detail now.

The Western area fires weapon systems of today are - if there's any such thing left - most of the time self-propelled guns (SPGs). You can coordinate fires of dozens of dispersed SPGs to cover a large area with lethal fires, with all impacts arriving in a time window as short as 20 seconds. Modern communications, navigation systems and computing make this relatively easy. It once was almost an art and required detailed planning from 1916 till the early 1990's, but nowadays it can be done in a few minutes.
SPGs are also - as mentioned before - the logistically sound choice for the task. The increased rates of fire and the ability to concentrate "many" SPGs in one fire mission due to their much-increased ranges can substitute for the MRL's rate of fire advantage in the area fires mission. You do not need a high dispersion, inaccurate weapon such as a conventional MRL for an area fires mission; you can also use many accurate, small dispersion weapons and aim them at different points for the same effect with much less waste of munitions.

In short; SPGs have de facto taken over the area fires mission in the cluster munition ban countries and NATO as a whole, while the remnants of Western MRLs have escaped into a long range precision fires role.
This is hugely important, for it means that MRLs will rarely shoot, while SPG crews will be so busy 24/7 that we should consider double manning for them.

MRLs can take over other roles as well since they won't be dragged into hectic, ceaseless 24/7 activity.

One of these roles is battlefield air defence.

I wrote before about how lock on after launch missiles can engage targets without a line of sight between target and launcher, and how external sensors can deliver the necessary data for firing solutions (networked combat). This greatly reduces the expense for air defence hardware other than the munitions themselves and makes powerful battlefield air defences kind of affordable.
I also wrote about how the portable and barely-not portable air defences lack an effective ceiling to protect against strike aircraft that can detect, identify and engage with great precision from well above 15,000 ft altitude. Old school battlefield air defences such as the German Cold War systems Gepard and Roland can still push the opposing air power up, but then they can't do anything about it. Lock-on after launch/NLOS capability means that area air defences don't even need such short range complements; they can engage targets at low and lowest altitudes by themselves now.

Long story short; I'm in favour of introducing AMRAAM-ER as brigade-level air defences, launched by a MRL with a 360° traverse and +90/-0° elevation (minimum +60°/+10° elevation**).

AMRAAM-ER combines the ESSM's rocket motor (which is optimised for ground launch, unlike AMRAAM's) with AMRAAM's active radar seeker. The development costs till introduction into service could be limited to a tolerable level, and the costs per missile would be somewhat but not necessarily too much greater than for an equivalent seeker AMRAAM. The employment of AMRAAM's seeker means that any further upgrades for it (such as an AESA antenna) could be transferred with less development costs than a stand-alone design. AMRAAM-ER will likely be the best choice for brigade-level air defence against high value air targets until ESSM Block II is available.
An imaging infrared seeker missile would be a good complement, in order to mitigate the risk that AMRAAM's seeker may be defeated by countermeasures. IRIS-T SL would be the natural choice for Germany, but I suppose VL MICA IR is the better choice overall.

The launcher should be modular, mounted on a MULTI / EPLS rack, so many different platform vehicles (15 ton 8x8) are available AND it could be dropped on the ground (with its own power supply and secure digital radio). It could also be picked up by a tracked  and protected MULTI / EPLS vehicle, of course. Ideally, the 15 ton 8x8 MULTI vehicle would be able to disguise itself as a much lower-value container-carrying vehicle. The launcher rack could hydraulically-folding walls to achieve this. Long-range radar sensors could then not tell it apart from ordinary logistics vehicles.

I suppose the computer & control tasks could be handled with laptops and a radio kit (with LINK 16 mode) from within the vehicle's cabin. We would not need additional dedicated command & control vehicles or containers to add the air defence role to such MRL-carrying 8x8 vehicles.

The very same launcher could also be used to launch many other munitions, of course:
  • a 499 km PGM with HE warhead (~LRPF, MTCR-compliant by having a lighter than 500 kg warhead)
  • a 70-100 km PGM with HE warhead (P44, GUMRLS)
  • a 200-300 mm calibre short range (~10 km) rocket with thermobaric warhead
  • a 160 mm rocket with HE warhead and trajectory correction, range similar to SPGs
  • a 127 mm rocket with HE warhead (most efficient dumb munition in weight and volume)
  • a cargo rocket with smart AT mines 
  • a cargo rocket with leaflets
  • drones that lack an undercarriage (including decoy and RF jammer drones)
  • air-to-air missiles phased out by the air force in favour of better ones, also current missile types
  • surface-to-air missiles phased out by the navy (except SARH guidance) in favour of better ones, also current missile types
I mentioned dumb munitions in this list; not all warfare is mobile warfare, that's why. The dumb rounds would make much sense in the reduction of pockets.

- - - - -

Think about this; opposing forces could never know how much of the brigades' air defences they have knocked out because there would be no fixed amount of such air defences. 
Every brigade would have its ~50 km radius umbrella of air defences around every launcher, and with some dispersion the battalion battlegroups, the support elements and even some part of a main supply route could be protected against air attack to some degree.
The expenses would be largely limited to the launcher racks (about a million € per copy) and the missiles (might be less than a million € per copy for AMRAAM-ER). 200 launchers & 2,000 such air defence missiles could make a huge difference in Eastern Europe, and the program cost would be about two billion Euros in addition to what's being spend on MRLs anyway.
The air forces would need fewer missiles carried in the air (fewer per fighter and/or fewer fighters), as they could call on surface-to-air missiles of quite forward-located ground forces at least on defensive missions. They could themselves stay at a safe distance to the threat. This support would give the own side a substantial geographical advantage in defensive air warfare, which allows to make do with less fighters on defensive missions (or rather less distraction of fighters by defensive missions).
Opposing air forces would need to defeat two very different seeker types (which are the dominant air combat missile seeker types) to enable air attacks without expensive standoff PGMs or prohibitive attrition rates.
The crews and the launcher racks could shift their focus to the classic MRL role of area fires in support of  ground forces once the (few) expensive PGMs are expended and the threat of air attack much-degraded by successful air warfare. They could also focus more on the air defence mission if the air warfare went poorly (such as after surprise strikes by cruise missiles on air bases on day one). They could even use the air force's inventory of air-to-air missiles if the air force lost most of its fighters without expending many missiles.

This versatility means that a launcher couldn't do all missions at the same time, but its purpose could be adapted to the situation.

Such a launcher could establish itself as a more widespread and more important standard than the MLRS pods, which would greatly lower the bar for new PGM and rocket-assisted launch drones. These would not require any dedicated vehicle, but could be introduced into the forces with little more than a software update and some technical manuals. This could help keeping the forces' edge sharp at acceptable expenses.

- - - - -

I suppose that well-budgeted Western ground forces brigades should have a minimum of a dozen such MRL racks, with additional such racks as corps-level assets and in storage as a national attrition reserve. Less well-budgeted NATO brigades could enjoy support from such an air defence umbrella, particularly in fluid mobile warfare where adversaries would not know where the umbrellas end.

It would be a much more convincing concept than to keep MLRS with its few usable munitions, slavishly obeying organisational inertia. The current path-dependent force structures are lacking a good case for their weak MRL components and the all-too-often de facto absent battlefield air defences.
You may feel uneasy about the lack of organic sensors for air defence, but that's a topic for a different blog post.


P.S.: Needless to say, I was never a fan of MEADS or TLVS.

*: There's no point in preparing for wars of aggression, and aggressors are usually confident in their relative military power. This confidence is usually enough based in reality for them to really be a powerful adversary - nothing like Westerners beating up Arabs.

**: The elevation range may be reduced in the sector of the cabin.

The "modular" racket

I have a couple texts planned that have "modules" as commonality. I'd like to push this remark on "modular" approaches first, to clarify that I'm not fooled by the usual racket.

Armed services often lie and deceive to politicians and the public when it comes to "modular" approaches because they hardly ever purchase many more modules than fit on dedicated platforms. Thus very few if any "modular" approaches actually benefit from the theoretical ability to swap out one module for another to suit the platform for a different missions. Swapping modules is even impractical in some "modular" approaches.
The typical outcome looks more like '10% more modules than fit onto the platforms were purchased', while a sensible surplus would rather be in the range of 100%-500%, depending on the program.




"Majority of terrorists who have attacked America are not Muslim, new study finds"

independent.co.uk, Mythili Sampathkumar

"Right-wing extremists, often white supremacists, were responsible for 115 incidents within the same period. Events like Robert Dear’s killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood women's health clinic in December 2015 for offering abortion services would fall into this category.  In terms of police action, 76 per cent of the Islamist incidents were thwarted versus just 35 per cent of the right-wing extremist incidents.  Sting operations were used in nearly half of the Islamist-related incidents, a rate four times higher than police operations on right and left-wing extremist acts."

Keep in mind "sting operations" are under criticism because they may provoke people into becoming terrorists who wouldnot have done anything like that without such motivation by the FBI. The statistic may thus be inflated by "sting" ops.

"More people died in the Islamist incidents, a total of 90 due to mass shootings like the one in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. However, around 33 per cent of right-wing extremist incidents involved deaths versus 13 per cent of Islamist terror acts. They also caused 79 deaths."

The notion that Islamic jihad ideology terrorism is much more lethal is actually widespread, and efvidently wrong. The attention paid (most of the time, not these few days) is also out of proportion regarding the lethality.

"The evidence appears to belie Donald Trump’s rhetoric, however.  The report said that Mr Trump’s “fixation” on “radical Islamic terrorism” is “irrational”."

It is, and that's important. Such evidence reveals who has the capacity to understand the real world & its problems and potentially devise and enact solutions to problems, or exploit opportunities for progress - and who's easily mislead by prejudice, feelings and/or ideology. It's a marker for the difference between a politician who may be of great use to his people (who these people are is another issue) and a politician who's no better than the figurative drunk ranting uncle at the family barbecue.
Ideally, we get to observe politicians in positions of little power (such as sub-national legislatures, as mayors et cetera) where we can weed out the bad ones, then they gain additional experience and exposure as national-level politicians where we can weed out even more so we have a certain pool to choose from for the highest national-level and supranational offices of great power. Populists who propel entirely untested "charismatic" politicians and their followers into highest offices lack this multi-level vetting, just as do 'shooting stars' in established parties who rise too quickly due to help of some top politicians.
The aforementioned vetting by the public is far from perfect, but still better than nothing.

Even reformist / populist parties should march through the political instances slowly - there's hardly ever a crisis so bad that a slow (~4-8 years) advance would be too slow. In fact, they may have the most thorough success if they are particulalry slow (~10-20 years) as were the greens in Germany, who achieved participation in a national-level cabinet for the first (and so far only) time after almost two decades. By then their original environmental protection focus had affected the policies of other parties; they had achieved most of their original aims without being in power.
They also had some extremely questionable personalities and political viewpoints in their early years, which they now regret. This went as far as tolerance for pedophiles. In hindsight, them advancing to national level power in the early 80's would not have been a good thing. They had not weeded out their misfits. The AfD (new right wing party) of today was even overwhelmed by its misfits - now the vast majority of Germans seems to be glad that the AfD missed capturing national parliament seats months after its foundation.


*: Such as the former German minister of defence von Guttenberg, who shouldn't have made it past a town council level of responsibility.



[Fun] Now drive backwards!

(It would actually not matter all that much because such T-72/-80/-90 tanks
have a walking pace-like maximum reverse speed).

In case your browser cannot show the video; link.


Blogger issues

Weird things are happening with new comments now (the list of comments awaiting moderation is empty even though I receive e-mail notification of a new comment), so don't think too much about it if your comment doesn't appear quickly or at all.



Morale, endurance and the budget

Lightweight equipment isn't enough to keep dismounted combat troops from becoming too exhausted for their missions. Let's think about other factors;
  • selection and allocation of suitable recruits*
  • physical fitness
  • cohesion (including good enlisted-NCO relations)
  • sufficient (hot) food and water supply
  • prior training in enduring stress, exhaustion and adverse conditions *
  • sleep discipline*
  • good leadership
  • companion/mascot animals (especially dogs)*
  • comfortable clothing
  • protection from elements (suitable clothes, tent, use of buildings)
  • personal hygiene
  • replacement boots & clothes
  • uplifting moments
  • good CASEVAC and medical care
  • ideally daily communication with family (digital text messages as minimum)
Such things are relatively affordable and can thus be mastered by poor budget forces even though some high budget armed services fail at providing such favourable circumstances.
Military history shows that endurance under great stress is a hugely important determinant for battlefield success. Armies tend to become better at preparing troops for combat during wartime, and usually they pay more attention to the factors listed above than before war, unless they feel forced to cut training down in order to fill the ranks.

Such non-combat background issues are likely even more important than other pivotal questions such as:
  • Can we penetrate their tanks head-on? Can they do it?
  • Can we maintain our radio comms in face of their ECM? Can they do it?
  • Are our radio comms secure? Are theirs secure?
  • Who has air superiority? 
  • Do we need to ration fuel and munitions? Do they?
  • Do we have sufficient night vision? Do they?
  • Do we know where we are and where we are heading?
Overall, I think there clearly are diminishing returns from investment in land power quality. Improvements beyond getting the two lists above right will yield little additional benefits.**

A good approach for sufficient deterrence and defence on a tight budget would thus be to get such essentials right and keep ambitions in check for almost everything else. This would be a kind of Schwerpunkt applied on budgeting; get right what needs to be right, be frugal on luxuries.


*: These are the points at which the German Heer fails as far as I know, but I am not an active soldier and really only have an outsider's vantage point these days.
**: Plus effective artillery support, but I'd exclude air superiority and be satisfied with a good air defence instead.


A proposal for infantry modernisation

I wrote a summary post on soldier (infantry) modernisation programs back in 2009. Such programs range from simply new clothes, helmet, guns and night vision equipment up to super-ambitious 'electronic infantryman' approaches with helmet-mounted display, camera on the rifle, lots of wearable computer tech if not even exoskeletons.

The components are usually not ready for introduction at the same time, so whatever hardware finds its way from development into service does so in a trickling fashion. The procurement agencies have fancy buzzwords ("increment" and so on) for this, as if it was perfectly compatible with the ambition of having one big modernisation program.

That's actually something I'd like to see changed; I don't want to see "one big modernisation program", regardless of how many phases, increments, cycles et cetera it has.
I would like to see the different programs of allies competing in troops testing with realistic and at most partially scripted mock battles. I'd also like to see a competing infantry modernisation program in the same major nation as one of those 'electronic infantryman' programs - and they, too, should compete. I'd like to see - in troops testing mock battles - the concept of agile lightweight-equipped infantry tested against the concept of 'electronic infantry'. Agility and mobility versus more communication, more night vision, more digital maps.
These mock battles should include scenarios with heavy ECM influences.

It's striking that while program managers pay lip service to lightweight products, no infantry modernisation program (the 2009 list is outdated, obviously) appears to focus on reducing the weight of equipment and NOT considering those weight savings as potential for additional equipment.

There's very little insight to be gained by yet another 'electronic infantryman' program, but much insight could be gained by pitting those against a properly lightened load infantry for a change. Besides, the lightened load equipment would be hugely relevant to non-infantry troops as well (while with conventional programs that's mostly limited to clothing), and they comprise well over 2/3 of a deployed army!