2010/10/06

Physical fitness requirements

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Physical fitness requirements seem to be an ever-interesting topic in regard to land warfare. A high fitness standard seems to be quite self-evident for infantry, scouts and most engineers. Military history knows nevertheless many drafted and not necessarily physically fit (often not even healthy or quite dwarfish) infantrymen and engineers.

There's greater disagreement about the physical fitness requirements for support personnel and armour troops. On the other hand, these troops were often required to serve as a kind of defensive (object defence or self-defence) infantry. WW2 experiences such as the infamous "Alarmeinheiten" (improvised emergency infantry and anti-tank units) and U.S. anti-air personnel being pushed into infantry units as replacements remind us of the importance of infantry skills and physical fitness of everyone, though.
Guderian is on record complaining about the high losses of expert tank crews in infantry combat, for they were all too often used in the role of improvised infantry after their tank was lost. He regretted that these troops didn't receive a better infantry training.


Discussions about the physical fitness topic can be quite lively, even if we ignore the petty nation-bashing that's often based on anecdotes and photos of certain overweight troops. Such anecdotes and photos originate in all armies.


I'm in the mood to contribute a bit to this topic, and I think it might be of interest because I've got a rather unusual set of assumptions that leads to an unusual conclusion.


First the assumptions: I am the "great war" guy who's only pro-"war of necessity"; pro-defensive war. It's rather unlikely that NATO or EU will be attacked by an army any time soon, and peripheral interventions are either very unlikely or not something I'd support politically.
This puts us into the very advantageous - outright great - situation of not having to fear a great war in the next maybe two years. We can keep military spending low, take the time to experiment and most importantly: We should prepare.

Prepare for war? Si vis pacem, para bellum?

Not exactly. the situation is likely too good for that. Most allies could instead prepare for the preparations for war. We could (maybe should) prepare our forces for a quick (2 years) expansion (double or triple) which might become necessary sometime in the future to avert war.
Until then, our low force levels would relieve our economies and they might also discourage high military spending in our periphery (doves and hawks usually disagree on the consequences of "easing of tension" a.k.a. "showing weakness" by 180°).
A force expansion plan would probably be a better preparation than a campaign plan for us.


So well, how to apply this "prepare for future expansion" theme to physical fitness?

My proposal:
Don't spend 150-200 hours per year on physical fitness if you could get the same fitness in a matter of weeks or months once the political horizon darkens. The physical fitness of today should be oriented at the peacetime training of today (in part to prevent injuries).

On the other hand, the decision to prepare for war instead of preparing for expansion (any more) should switch a lever: At that time all troops should become physically fit for defensive infantry combat, and those who will necessarily be physically challenged in their assigned jobs should train to a very high level. of physical fitness Physical fitness training guides and equipment should be available. This includes civilian quality gyms (muscle factories) in all barracks. The increased standards should be strictly enforced, beginning in the officer corps, then among NCOs and finally among enlisted troops.


Sven Ortmann

Disclosure: I am no fitness freak at all, I dislike running and I'm bored by marching. My body was never above BMI 25, though. I was a subscriber in a gym for a while and again badly bored. I cancelled my subscription during a much too-hot summer when I temporarily lost all interest in even more sweat-causing activities. I prefer technical martial arts training with some warming up fitness exercises to running and lifting weights any time.
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6 comments:

  1. FALKLANDS

    Not all British soldiers were physically capable of enduring the long marches with heavy loads which were constant features of the Falklands War. An interesting and quite surprising occurrence was the number of physical training cadre that fell out of the marches. In garrison these cadre ran company physical training. It was determined that some of these cadre were unable to complete the force marches with such heavy loads because they were not able to maintain a high-protein diet. The British realized that the intent of physical training is not to develop professional athletes or weight lifters. The purpose of physical conditioning is to develop combat stamina.
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/call/call_1-88_chpt4.htm

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  2. I simply can't agree with what you are proposing. Physical Training (PT) serves many purposes, and a fit soldier can't simply be switched 'on' in six months by training. Resilience against injury (core strength, flexibility) and endurance (muscular and cardio-vascular) needs to maintained at all times by a professional fighting force. Simply 'surging' PT training by bringing in 'commercial quality' gyms is falling into marketing trash. A proper PT programme for soldiers doesn't need ANY gym equipment - austere training environments are no excuse. Resistance exercises involving your own body weight and other team members, equipment carries based off your operational equipment and natural terrain can create as elite a fitness level as you need.

    Fitness and it's benefits are also a pre-requisite for training. You can't properly train if you aren't fit enough, simple as that. Injuries are an unavoidable necessity that can be mitigated against but never removed.

    PT also creates mental strength and camaraderie. All these qualities are very, very valuable to a military and to risk eroding them represents a very, very real risk to operational effectiveness.

    And how can you define PT for 'defensive infantry operations' as opposed to offensive operations? The tactical level demands the same techniques and tactics of assault and offensive ops regardless of the overall campaign. If you have a force that can't carry packs, can't advance against an enemy position, seize it and then dig in (a very demanding physical undertaking when you combine it with sleep deprivation, extreme climactic variations, high stress and limited food intake) then that force is extremely limited as any force, defensive or otherwise.

    Trying to engineer a defensive-force as an economy of effort undertaking is, in my mind, dubious at best and exceedingly dangerous at worst.

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  3. You don't seem to have understood the article (assumption, conclusion) properly. Reading it a 2nd time would certainly explain more than any reply here.

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  4. "Guderian is on record complaining about the high losses of expert tank crews in infantry combat, for they were all too often used in the role of improvised infantry after their tank was lost. He regretted that these troops didn't receive a better infantry training."

    Surely the problem is failing to provide a second tank, not failing to cross train your tank men?

    My point about "peactime preparedness" remains the same.
    You will not get a mythical two year warning of a war.
    We didnt get a 20 second warning of the Russian Intervention in Georgia, we wont get anything better if they choose to intervene in Finland.
    Extended Mobilisation times encourage a first strike and escalation

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  5. Come on, that's nonsense. There were 2-16 years advance warning for WWI, 1.5-8 years advance warning for WW2 (both depending on sensitivity).
    The Georgians had more than a decade advance warning for their war, and in fact they began it themselves.
    There's also no force which could overrun us tomorrow even if we had halved our military budgets years ago. It takes time to build up aggressor forces as well.

    You obviously chose the hawkish interpretation, well we can agree to disagree on that.

    About second tank; quite the opposite. There were even two crews per tank in May 1940 in order to be able to push the offensive at maximum.
    Tens of thousands of tanks were produced, but there's always a chance that a badly mauled formation will be in crisis and take whatever personnel it has to master the crisis.

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  6. Just my two cents worth. Armies must have a system to rapidly prepare conscripts physically once mobilised for war. This approach is and should be different from maintaining whatever exists as a standing army. The standing army should maintain the level of combat fitness required for war. Peacetime standing armies have the time to allocate to such physical training. The plan for conscripts is to work off a probable low fitness base and bring them up together to as close to the required combat fitness level within the time available.

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