2012/12/14

TO&E debates

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A comment asked me to discuss something with an example TO&E (table of organization and equipment), and I declined. I'm still convinced that the relatively popular toying with TO&E is largely a waste of time.

I did mention that there are rare useful thoughts in such discussions, and that these could be better discussed in a generalised way. Here's a small collection of such thoughts and discussions which I picked up over the years:


General requirement; units or small units which are supposed to function if split need to be laid out for it.
In a simple (and by technology by now obsolete) example, a mortar battery (platoon) would need to be able to leap-frog, providing continuous support with at least half of the tubes while the battalion is on the move (while mostly deployed). There were some historical TO&Es which did not provide double fire control equipment and personnel as well as enough radios for this purpose.
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Another is the idea of having a Verfügungszug, a kind of bodyguard small unit at disposal of a commanding officer. A battalion commander would this way always have a platoon from which to draw couriers, replacement leaders, men for scouting missions, a security team for himself, guards for the HQ and finally if not most importantly a reserve in a crisis even after all 'line' battalions were thrown into action already.
Such (small) units were very popular in the pre-firearms age, but have fallen out of fashion. There were proposals to revive the concept since the 80's at the latest.
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Related, there's the proposal in the air to establish a scout/sniper platoon on infantry battalion level. Some armies assign a few snipers directly to 'line' (infantry) companies. Designated marksmen down to squad level (the UK with its LSW/SUSAT combo even had kind of designated marksmen in support units) exist as well. Yet, the highly trained specialists with scout/sniper skills make little sense if dispersed like this. Their casualties, sick and non-deployable soldiers wouldn't be distributed evenly, leaving some units without their support. Their specialisation furthermore requires uncommon training - the whole issue of maintaining proficiency is best-served by having them together in one small unit, in a pool.
Strangely, relatively few battalion TO&Es world-wide feature a scout/sniper platoon (as far as I know).
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The ever-lasting optimization challenge between having technical support troops pooled at a relatively high level or dispersed as organic support to a relatively low one. It appears that the former approach (preferred by the Soviets) works best with armies of modest access to said skills, while the latter is the more luxurious approach which costs more, but also performs better.
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TO of PzBrig 12,
(c) TUBS
The ever-lasting span of command (not "control") issue. It's easy to lead two manoeuvre sub-units plus your organic support and HQ, but such TO&Es get criticised a lot. Three manoeuvre units provide many more tactical options, but often lead to the unimaginative "two up, one back" tactics.
There are proponents for four manoeuvre sub-units, pointing out the many more tactical options and especially the ability to create a main effort without committing the essential reserve (example: two left, one right and one reserve).
I'm most unimpressed by these, for it's utterly common to see manoeuvre units to shrink a lot or be joined into fewer ones after the strength dropped somewhat. Many brigades don't deploy fully to a theatre of war, and would be even less understrength if they hadn't received replacements from other cannibalized brigades. This latter work-around is not available in a large-scale war, of course.  Add the inevitable early casualties, the sick and the troops used for a non-textbook purpose and you end up with understrength forces which make a mockery of such detailed tactical considerations.
I prefer to keep searching for info and thoughts on how to cope with understrength and loss of experienced junior leaders rather than to pay much attention to the recurring span of command debates.
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Tooth-to-tail ratio or share of infantry debates; too few infantrymen is a persisting problem, and was so ever since 1944 (with the Soviets and Germans bled white and anglo-americans burning through their pre-invasion infantry strength multiple times as well).
The lack of infantry has been known for decades, but somehow infantry isn't sexy enough of something.
The (edit: early) Stryker brigade (edit: TO&E draft) was criticised for being infantry-weak (astonishing, considering its textbook combat tactics - as little as such exist - were dismount-centric). Almost all Western or Warsaw pact brigade TO&Es known to me were weak on infantry ever since the 60's (German brigades lost a lot of their infantry strength over successive army structures).
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Mixed or separate branch battalions. You can have a tank battalion and an infantry battalion, train them separately and mix them into two mixed battalions only for action or higher-order training. Another approach is to train them as mixed battalions from the beginning.
The widely preferred approach is to do the former, for it makes training more efficient (there's enough wasted waiting time for soldiers without additional inefficiencies already). The problem of qualifying the senior leaders (battalion staff and commander) in leading such combined arms forces is often dealt with by giving them tours through different branches. You don't want a purely infantry-minded in command of a tank company on certain terrains, for example. There are nevertheless recurring demands for mixed battalions and organizational experiments for the same; an idea which is as undying as laser weapons and flying jeeps.
Even the idea of switching from one TO&E to another once company-level training is complete (a horror for inertia-obyeing bureaucracies) gains no ground permanently. This is in part because the mixing is supposedly helpful in tailoring mixed battalions according to needs. Again, I call B.S. because you can only mix what you have - a more infantry-centric mixed Bn forces you to have at least one infantry-weak one made of what's left.
So in the end brigade TO&Es usually show pure branch battalions, completely unrelated to how they would fight and an absurdity if you keep in mind that standing units were originally standardized in order to make it more easily known to higher-ups what kind of force they are.
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Specialised brigades versus unitary ones. This debate happens occasionally; there was a German debate on this decades ago, but we eventually understood our terrain in North and South Germany (Cold War times) was too different for a unitary brigade TO&E. This didn't mean the different brigade TO&Es which were developed made more sense, of course. Nowadays you can't even be sure that a Panzerbrigade has a different TO&E than a Panzergrenadierbrigade.
Ground forces with emphasis on being chess figures for great power gaming by bored and irresponsible politicians (also known as "expeditionary forces") cannot anticipate the kind of environment they will be sent to (unless said politicians prefer to play their games in about the same sandbox region over and over). This gives new life to the idea of unitary regiments or brigades. See USMC MEUs.
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Some stupid Milblogger proposed PGM companies, trying to provoke some thinking about how to include vastly different and relatively new means into TO&Es. Same with electronic warfare and signals stuff.
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The integration of reconnaissance or observation support into manoeuvre forces: The "how" is much-discussed, while I simply propose to keep dedicated recce organic above manoeuvre team (Bde, Bn) level because I consider it a necessity to have recce attached to areas, not formations or units. It's a long story and was occasionally mentioned on this blog.
One driver of discussions around the general topic of how to organize organic recce was and is the RSTA quasi-battalion introduced in the U.S.Army. It proved useful for recce, but didn't bring much fighting power or boots on the ground - and that's what brigade commanders always want more of (often with good reasons).
Cavalry Squadron (RSTA)
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Finally a TO&E aversion speciality of mine; I *strongly* dislike the idea of having army aviation elements in manoeuvre forces. The armoured cavalry regiments of old were extreme examples for this nonsense. There's little debate going on about this, for almost no army has so many helicopters to spare as to disperse them like this. The helicopter support dependency which developed in parts of Afghanistan could revive the issue if enough helicopters are available for such follies around 2020, though.
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Right now (or yesterday) I cannot remember other TO&E topics which ever attracted my interest, at least not below divisional level (there's an ongoing discussion whether to shed the divisional or corps level of command; I'm for keeping the corps level).
It's conspicuous how combat troops-related TO&E debates seem to dominate the list despite the fact that support troops are in the majority and have been so for generations.


See? None of these topics really required an actual TO&E here; they can all be described with words and in general terms. (The two graphics have only decorative value.)

S Ortmann
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10 comments:

  1. I guess people like TO&Es so much because they look like very specific representations of data. If you add equipment you can make your "dream force" with all the shiny new toys. That's like little boys playing with lego and arranging the pieces. Describing general ideas or plans just in words is much more abstract and possibly harder to grasp for several people. Nevertheless the latter seems to be the basis for TO&E and thus is more important from my point of view.

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  2. Nice try, but I suggested you prove your point about the potential of merging light trucks and utility vehicles. The exact opposite of indulging yourself in a world of pure fantasy.

    In regard to this post, I guess you forgot to mention the need for organic means of deception.

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    1. You may think so, but "fantasy" has no bad meaning in this context. Every counter-factual thought such as a thought about potential improvements is necessarily "fantasy" (or "creativity" as it would be called by more benevolent people).

      I cannot conclusively prove my point since I have no battalion battlegroup in my backyard - nor can it be conclusively falsified by anyone without such a luxury.
      Those readers who see value and inspiration in picking up thoughts here are most likely satisfied and the others kind of misunderstood this blog or may be here for a brawl out of sheer aggressiveness (such as trolls), which I refuse to offer.
      So no, I just go on to the next topics.

      Feel free to elaborate on the deception thing, though. I've rarely if ever seen means for deception built into organisational charts. It's sometimes in an order of battle (such as deception ops involved in Operation Overlord or Operation MI), but I've yet to see one in a TO&E.
      I'm not aware of any debates going on or having happened about the need for organic means of deception.

      Delete
  3. What would you consider an adequate complement of infantry for a battalion-sized force with infantry in its name: mechanized, motorized, "light", etc?

    Have you considered the operational (but not administrative) integration of scout/sniper platoons with reconnaissance units, given your desire to set recce up according to area, rather than command?

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    1. The first question is a bit tough; German practice was to call a brigade with 2 infantry Bn (Panzergrenadier, kinda infantry) + 1 armour Bn a Panzergrenadier (mechanised) Bde while 1+1 used to be a tank brigade.
      Broken down to Bn level this would be about companies instead of brigades; 2+1 Coy = mechanised, 1+1 = tank.
      "Motorised" was usually added to Warsaw pact Rifle divisions, and described those divisions which had much more wheeled APCs than BMP-style vehicles + MBTs and consequently an emphasis on slower dismounted combat unlike than their tank divisions. A Stryker Bde and all the other fashionable 8x8 AFV-based TO&Es could be called "motorised". Likewise, the old German Jägerbrigade would come close.
      "light" depicted forces without organic armour to speak of.

      None of these conventions have ever really required a personnel percentage of infantrymen AFAIK; their meaning was more about the means of mobility and the tactical styles.

      Which infantrymen percentage is adequate depends on the missions and terrain - a simple answer would be inadequate.
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      The sniper/scout topic on the operational level really turns into the LRS/LRRP/LRSU/Fernspäher thing and yes, I considered it.
      This is a nice text about it:
      http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/download/csipubs/gebhardt_lrrp.pdf
      Aside from that, I also considered a short-range dismount scout element for armoured recce, which is an underestimated factor probably because training areas aren't cluttered enough to give it prominence.

      Delete
  4. Your information is not up to date. US Army Infantry BN have an organic Scout/Sniper Platoon with 3 x scout squads and 3 x sniper teams. This MTOE has been around for at least 15 years. The US Army also does not field any strictly armor or mech infantry BN any longer. They are all organized in to Combined Arms Battalions which also include an engineer elmement. This MTOE has been the norm for at least 5 years. Finally, USMC MEUs units may be ad hoc, but organizationally they have a MTOE and they are mixed, combined arms units that include infantry, armor, artillery and aviation up to fixed wing combat aircraft. The US Army is toying with the idea of pushing helicopter aviation down to the BDE level and also adding another maneveur BN to it's BCTs. And also, where does this idea that Stryker BNs did not have enough infantry come from? At inception, the Stryker BCTs had and still have 3 infantry BN which is one more than other infantry BN.

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    1. Hehe, it shows that I'm not much into TO&E discussions.
      I remember the initial Stryker Bde design was criticised for being weak on infantry at least. FM 3-21 is dated 2003, the discussions about this brigade type commenced up to three years earlier (don't remember exactly; may have been 2001).

      Regarding the scout/sniper thing you seem to have ignored the "world-wide"; I'm not US-centric and the U.S. Army is but one of a hundred armies or so.
      Same about mixed battalions; you ignored "widely preferred" and "usually".

      Delete
  5. I didn't miss it but I am quite sure US combat arms BNs make up a very large percentage of all the combat battalions in the western world at least. So if you want to qualify your statements as "other than the United States" than they would be accurate.

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    1. I think they're accurate right now.

      Besides, this "very large percentage" is most likely a clear minority if we take reserve Bns into account.

      Delete
  6. Participants of the 1946 Armor Conference concluded that the future armor to infantry ratio should be 2 to 3.

    gute

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