2011/08/29

On infantry (breaking contact)

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I already expressed my strong opinion that infantry has to be elusive and break contact soon after being detected (and identified) when facing competent and well-equipped opposing forces (back in 2009).

This is a difficult thing, as evidenced by Western infantry getting pinned down by marginal effectiveness Taliban infantry in Afghanistan.

Being pinned down means to fear the effect of (edit: direct) fires. One answer to this is to be evacuated by armoured vehicles, another is to suppress all threats (difficult and unlikely) and the in my opinion most promising one is to break the line of sight with obscuration (smoke).

Smoke is no cure-all, though. It allows to break contact for a short period, but it doesn't counter pursuit. Chased infantry is forced to move even when this risks exposure to spotting, and it may be forced to evade instead of executing its mission. You gotta have something to discourage or stall pursuits on the micro level.

The most promising approach is surely to ambush pursuit parties. There are many ways to do this, including pre-arranged mortar fires, rear guards, moving through the kill zone of a friendly team (with announcement, of course) or leaving behind mines.

Wait - mines? Aren't they prohibited for the German forces?

Article 2
Definitions

"Anti-personnel mine" means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. [...]
Claymore-type mines are thus perfectly legal even for countries that ratified the Ottawa Treaty. They are not designed "to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person". Instead, they are designed to be exploded by pressing a trigger.
This type of mine is a classic for point defence, ambush and pursuit deterrence.

I did never understand why the Bundeswehr did not introduce this kind of munition. The 'magic' of it is that you don't need to use it very often. The mere possibility of its employment already motivates most enemies to be more careful ! Edit: See P.S.

There are some hazards, of course. Especially the fratricide problem may be relevant if many small infantry teams are active in the same battlefield, but in this case there's a general fratricide problem with all kinds of weapons and munitions.

The Bundeswehr should look at the MM-1 "Minimore". It's not politically correct, but then again you can't run a good army to the liking of those who dislike all things associated with conventional warfare.

MM-1 "Minimore"


Obscuration: A good (multi-spectral) and very, very responsive (one minute at most for mortar smoke fire mission, partially bursting smoke hand grenades) smoke-laying capability is essential.

Camouflage: The better the camouflage, the easier is it to slip away from sight and avoid renewed detection during partial exposure even while moving.

Fragmentation protection: Full-body (80%, especially legs) fragmentation protection helps to avoid injuries that would slow infantrymen down.

Moderate equipment weight and good fitness: Good agility and endurance (2 km off-road run with equipment) contributes the advisable amount of mobility for brekaing contact reliably.

Pursuit deterrence: Command-detonated mines and direct indirect fire ambushes serve as deterrence against pursuit.

Unpredictability: Multiple routes need to be feasible for breaking contact. The timing of breaking contact (especially in terms of seconds after smoke appeared) needs to be varied.

Electronic Warfare support: Radio jamming may help during the firefight AND during the process of breaking contact. Many deaf and mute small unit leaders tend to lose some dash.

Maintaining contact: Maintaining contact with other small teams is essential for minimising fratricide, helping each other and bolstering morale.

Readiness to sacrifice a team: A platoon will be stuck in a small battle sooner or later if its leader is not willing to sacrifice a badly pinned down small team. Sooner or later shit will happen in a conflict against a competent and well-equipped opposing force.

Quick rallying and readying for new offensive action: Leaders will be more inclined to break contact soon enough (after less than two minutes after giving away one's location) if they can expect to have their small teams ready for a new action real quick. Otherwise the temptation to keep fighting till a job was done in one attack could be too strong.

Combat discipline: No advanced tactics work without proper combat discipline, and there's no combat discipline if there's no everyday discipline in mundane matters. This is part of why military life tends to suck.

Distraction and deception: The challenge of pursuit becomes even greater if the potential pursuit party is still confused about the situation, and probably not aware of the attempt to break contact.

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Finally, the greatest ability to break contact at the micro level doesn't help much if you don't prepare to exploit the short moment of contact (less than two minutes) fully. Weapons and tactics that achieve effect slowly are much less important than weapons and tactics that exploit surprise very well and achieve a great effect in short time, even if that cannot be sustained for long.

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Official infantry doctrines (field manuals) still tend to imagine infantry combat as something very close to World War Two infantry combat (or are distracted by small wars topics). Part of the problem is that WW2 tactics were too bloody, another part is that infantry is now very scarce and yet another part of the problem is that the equipment has changed very much.
Things need to change. The appreciation of the opponent's lethality (especially of indirect fires and high explosive munitions in general) is underdeveloped. 
Everybody in an army knows that real warfare tactics have to be different than exercise tactics - the casualty rates in exercises are simply unbearable. The problem - as I see it - is that so far bearable casualty rates are only to be expected against very much inferior opponents.

This small text was intended to inspire more thought about a critical and utterly, utterly important part of the infantry's skill set; breaking contact. This tactical skill is a kind of red-headed step child in most (if not all) infantry field manuals. It smells too much like defeat, but withdrawals are not only for defeated parties - they are for surviving parties!


S O

P.S.: Just in case any reader thinks or thought about those popular breaking combat drills with lots of full auto fire and an orderly withdrawal: They're ballet routines to me, not suitable for real firefights. Their potential for success is limited to cases of great luck or low threat opposition. They're utterly impossible with regular infantry anyway for well-established psychological reasons.

About introduction in the Bundeswehr; the Bundeswehr inherited apparently about 33,000 Claymore-category mines (MON-50) from the East German army (NVA), but I have never seen any indication that it's using them. It appears that I've missed this detail at the time of writing.
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15 comments:

  1. your thoughts on using a S&T Daewoo K11 with 20mm at squard level

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  2. So exciting! I've been waiting for this post a whole year. I have some constructive criticism to offer.

    'Being pinned down means to fear the effect of fires. One answer to this is to be evacuated by armoured vehicles, another is to suppress all threats (difficult and unlikely) and the in my opinion most promising one is to break the line of sight with obscuration (smoke).' Though we should also put as much emphasis as not getting pinned down in the 1st place... But surely there are other circumstances when it would be beneficial to break contact, not just when your pinned down by spray and pray brigades?

    'breaking combat drills with lots of full auto fire and an orderly withdrawal: They're ballet routines to me, not suitable for real firefights. Their potential for success is limited to cases of great luck or low threat opposition. They're utterly impossible with regular infantry anyway for well-established psychological reasons.' Are you able to say why, exactly? If you put enough rounds in a close enough proximity to the enemy, they HAVE TO take cover, its survival. And why do leapfrog style run/supress tactics not make the grade with you? I've read through the Infantry Survivability post, and a couple of issues come to mind:
    -'Suppressive fires also consume much ammunition that weighs much.' But if the infantrymen can expect to regroup at a location where they can restock on ammunition, this shouldn't be a problem. *Also, Jim Storr quoted a figure in his book for how many (and how close) bullets need to be fired at an enemy in order to supress him, and it wasn't very much at all.
    -'A competent enemy is dispersed and well-sited enough to prevent his total suppression - and anything short of total suppression invites a massacre due to the extreme lethality of modern weapons.' Again, *. If both opposing partys are of a similiar size and armament, then it should be a fair one on one engagement, aside from whatever positional disadvantage the defenders are at, and the artillery both sides can call into play.

    'withdrawals are not only for defeated parties - they are for surviving parties!' Agreed, living to fight another day has its merits. Just look at how many german divisions were reconstituted after their supposed destruction during the closing of the falaise gap in normandy (though how they got so good at formation rebuilding, I still don't know).

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  3. Part of the problem with breaking contact with the Taliban is that they are usualy so unthreatening.

    "Pinned" forces could most likely die of old age before they could be outflanked and destroyed, there simply arent support fires to destroy them in cover.

    If there is no risk to waiting, why rush?
    Added that the enemy is unlikely to pursue, limiting itself to long ranged harrasment fire

    Its poor training for a "proper" war, but its not a likely reflection of performance in one either.

    Your suggestions are very good, well, they fit with my view of war anyway, cut the enemy force into small segments and overwhelm them, but they just arent applicable to Afghanistan.

    There are no support fires to destroy you, no reinforcements to overwhelm you, and the enemy is simply not going to pursue you no matter how poorly you break contact.

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  4. thank you SO. this article is very thoughtful. here in the philippines, due to the history of my country, our infantry forces tend to be quite capable. and i am speaking here of the soldiers themselves.

    however, the doctrines and the thinking that shape how my republic develops and employs these core capabilities in our conventional infantry, i think, tend to disregard these competencies.

    i think we tend to undervalue the importance of infantry in my country and focus more on what the soldier carries in his hands than what the soldier has in his heart.

    while it is true that modernization is a thrust of our armed forces, i still think a balanced approach will benefit my republic more.

    conventional infantry tactics as opposed to the very famous unconventional ones must also evolve with the times. and this, without removing the blood and guts reality of warfare.

    thanks again!

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  5. @anon:
    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/03/combined-arms-theory-application-in.html

    @kesler:
    The right time to break contact is before a mortar shell explodes over your fighting position.
    Suppressive fires are so much a burden if you ask very much of them because many if not most hostile positions may be unknown in a firefight (something that Storr did not take into account much) and I was thinking in part about suppressive indirect fires.
    Sometimes they're the right thing to have, but you cannot afford to use them all the time with such an intensity that you can trust them.

    Those cool and 'impressive' drills for infantry squads breaking contact (Ausweichschie├čen etc) are nonsense because
    + at least a fourth of the soldiers would not execute it in combat, unless they're very well selected ones
    + the drills break down once there's a WIA
    + standing upright or kneeling in face of competent enemy means final sacrifice and helps nobody
    + way too complicated; complicated manoeuvres work rarely in wartime practice

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  6. 'The right time to break contact is before a mortar shell explodes over your fighting position.' Well, actually, I was referencing this question in light of your post on Tactical Agility. Formations that have a much improved ability to break contact are absolutely essential to achieving your idea of non-linear defense. I was wondering when the best time to give the enemy the slip would be, at battalion and above level. BTW, how well would these contact breaking tips for platoons transfer up to battle groups and brigades?

    'many if not most hostile positions may be unknown in a firefight.' Yes, thats especially true if they are well camouflaged, equipped with sound/flash suppressors for their weapons, and maybe even some gunfire simulators mounted on portable, expendable drones to draw away enemy fire. They would have even less to fear of enemy suppressive fire if they used gun shields for their rifles. These would be very effective at neutralising enemy fire when you are oriented towards them, and laying prone.

    'Obscuration: A good (multi-spectral) and very, very responsive (one minute at most for mortar smoke fire mission, partially bursting smoke hand grenades) smoke-laying capability is essential.' Just to clarify, would this be defensive smoke for our soldiers, or offensive smoke for enemy soldiers?

    'at least a fourth of the soldiers would not execute it in combat, unless they're very well selected ones.' Is that because of the different mentalities of soldiers (some of whom are high functioning sociopaths), or because of shortfalls in unit cohesion?

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  7. This text was about the small unit level, at maximum units (companies).

    Defensive smoke; self-employed or support fires. It could be placed on various withdrawal routes, at the original position and in front of suspected/known hostile positions. It depends.
    The only thing that counts is that the line of sight is being interrupted when it's important.

    About the psychology thing: http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/09/holy-grail-of-personnel-selection.html


    I do often recommend to read the whole blog if a reader considers several recent blog posts worthwhile. This is not a mil news blog - most blog posts from 08 or 09 could just as well have been posted last week.
    I added the labels a while ago to make this easier.

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  8. —The right time to break contact is before a mortar shell explodes over your fighting position.—

    As a non-mil guy I may be asking a dumb question here, but if the red team has that option why don’t they go to it *before* small arms fire?

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  9. Good (or lucky) infantry is very difficult to spot before you're either very close or before they open fire.
    I've walked more than one to within 100 m of not exactly well-camouflaged troops without detecting them.

    Another reason is that mortar fire doesn't work well against moving small teams. It takes a while to call for indirect fires, not the least because you wanna make sure they don't hit you or buddies (and you wanna avoid fire missions on misidentified targets).


    Overall, it should usually be possible to avoid being shot at with mortars before a firefight. It takes some caution, but it's very feasible.

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  10. SO
    Would forward deployed fire controllers not solve much of that issue?
    One of my main problems with hosting heavy kit at division level is the lag it creates.

    Does it still take a long time for a battalion fire controller get a battalion gun to fire?

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  11. The time varies from less than a minute to "won't get fire support today".

    I don't see how a FO would solve any issues mentioned here; I assume that infantry squads/small teams can call at least for mortar fires anyway.

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  12. SO
    My understanding of this is limited, but in my head, Forward Observer radios the gun battery and asks them for fire support, whereas the infantry bounce a request up the chain, who may or may not bounce it down the gun battery.

    One is pretty much instant for target updates, the other, is not, and different rules apply.

    But peoples unwillingness to talk to each confuses me.
    I remember being told it takes three days for the photographs and pilots report from a Recon Tornado to reach the front lines, all I could think was, do these people not have radios and maps!!!!

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  13. That's a matter of some technicalities and organisation. You gotta get such basics right before you could dare to enter battle with a 1st rate opponent.

    I was looking at a specific problem here and was therefore assuming that all basics were already done right.

    There's furthermore a reason why I wrote "small teams can call at least for mortar fires...". Mortars are lower down ('organic' to companies or battalions even) and thus usually both in radio range (maximum one relay) and available. It's their job - unlike artillery, which has greater range as is a Schwerpunkt weapon of formation commanders. Close air support is a Schwerpunkt weapon of theatre commanders. Attack helicopters are somewhere in between, but also a Schwerpunkt weapons thanks to their mission radius (maybe Corps commander's - it depends on the nation).

    Some context on mortars in the beginning of this text: http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/04/bundeswehr-mortars.html

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  14. So is the assumption that moving large numbers of foot-mobile or mechanized personnel across areas with big viewsheds and/or no groundcover is impractical when faced with top-notch artillery and/or airstrike capabilities?

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  15. It depends. See battle of Khafji.
    It may work with surprise.

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