Future of Warfare in low GDP countries

(GDP = Gross Domestic Product)

Speculations about how future war(fare) would look like tend to know two extremes; high tech scenarios against other high-tech forces and high-tech scenarios against low budget guerrillas or other troublemakers.

I was tired of this and looked at it from the other angle for a change; the future of warfare in regard to low budget forces primarily against peers.

As a starting point, I didn't assume a really low-tech or no-electronics force. Instead, I assume that consumer electronics are available to low budget troops, including affordable goodies otherwise meant for gun nuts, golfers and hunters.

Improvised armoured SUV in Mexico
This means affordable sniper rifles, quality assault rifles, laser rangefinders, software encrypted radios, camouflage clothes and load carrying stuff, soft body armour, helmets, ballistic computers for direct and indirect fire weapons, satellite navigation, drones with a daylight video camera, night vision devices as well as up-armoured and soft 4wd vehicles would be affordable and probably available.

The typical cheap heavier weapons exports such as NORINCO products and old stocks (machineguns, recoilless rifles, various anti-tank weapons up to 120 mm calibre, mortars, hand and rifle grenades), various guided missiles and towed or truck-mounted howitzers would be affordable and available as well. Nobody would need to fight with machetes.
Improvised armoured car with RCL in Libya

Other low budget forces could field about the same stuff, plus some probably quickly consumed (or rarely employed) tanks and combat aircraft as well as fresh supplies of cheaply acquired heavy weapons systems as warfare might drag on.

Mobile warfare would depend more on so-called technicals (with 12.7-23 mm gun or 73-120 mm recoilless gun) than we're used from Western forces (in which only special forces and LRRP use "tactical" soft 4wd vehicles, which tend to look more like dune buggies or steel pipe framed trucks than Toyota Landcruisers). The defence against this might be as important as the defence against tanks in Europe. A typical howitzer battery might have many heavy machineguns on many of its trucks and cars for self-defence, for example. It's difficult to armour-up wheeled vehicles against threats such as 12.7, 14.5, 20 or 23 mm API: This was achieved with purpose-designed armoured trucks (rated against 14.5 mm API), but plain steel protections require a thickness of 30-40 mm. Up-armoured cars and trucks would tend to be protected against 7.62 mm only.

Artillery offers the best bang for the buck with old Warsaw Pact howitzers (122 mm) and multiple rocket launchers (122 mm, too) which are available in huge quantities. Their dispersion is bad (especially for the rockets) and munition duds a problem (due to long storage or little quality control at manufacturing), but the accuracy (centre of impacts relative to target) could be great. Both the target's and the artillery's position can be determined with great precision nowadays using simple civilian equipment such as mobile phone GPS, mobile phone ballistics application, mobile phone meteorological app, compass and golfer or hunter laser rangefinders. The only accuracy weak spots would be muzzle velocity (if no MV radar is available) and exact wind conditions (unless weather balloons are used and tracked well), but this is manageable with observed howitzer fires.

The range of weapons and munitions available to a low budget force could thus be impressive and customised for the threat and environment. Their active tactical repertoire would still be very small if they face a high tech force. Units would enjoy freedom of movement only if air defences with a good service ceiling are available and restrict hostile air power to strike packages (= no continuous threat overhead) of which the ground forces would be warned in time.

The real question is in my opinion not what equipment they will use. They will simply use what fits.

Much more interesting is how competent the armed forces and guerrillas of future warfare will be.

Will they be much better than today's low budget forces in regard to training? Video games such as Operation Flashpoint 2 (multiplayer, highest difficulty setting) could surely indoctrinate the need for caution into even the most stubborn recruits who would otherwise reject crawling in dirt and prefer to spray and pray upright instead.
Tactical coordination and cooperation might be much-improved if by terrain or other circumstances radio communication can be used without excessive risk.

There is great potential for detached small unit infantry tactics whenever no sizeable percentage of the civilian populace is hostile and if at the same time the terrain does not offer long lines of sight in most places. Small unit raids and ambushes supported by small team surveillance, shadowing and scouting of hostiles could yield great benefits to the tactically more proficient force.

Low budget-on-low budget forces clashes might be much less dominated by morale collapses and outright flights from previously held settlements than we're used to. Cohesion might become much better instead, allowing for low-budget forces to prevail even during crisis situations. You can build a cohesive force without a lavish budget drawn from a high-tech economy, but you need to get recruiting and small unit leadership right. This doesn't necessarily mean that many poor countries will exploit this potential; they may still raise and maintain politically loyal yet incompetent and brittle forces instead.

The 2000's high profile occupation wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved tiny low budget forces (with great non-violent support base) vs. larger and lavishly funded Western forces and their overpaid proxies. There is no reason why this should be normal in the future. Low budget armies with hundreds of thousands of male and female members - fighters as well as (para)military and civilian porters and  supporters - could dominate future warfare instead.

Imagine a conflict close to the equator; 26° C midday temperature all-year, 90% air humidity. High-budget forces would probably not even wear hard body armour under such circumstances, but even without it they would tend to carry more equipment than their low-budget opposition. The low-budget opposition would likely make use of porters and thus lighten the load of the dismounted fighters even more. They could run circles around their laden opponents (unless superior opposing forces' observation capabilities restrict them too much).

Campaigns between low-budget forces on the other hand might be dominated by the civilian support advantage. Logistical, communications and intelligence support in friendly territory can be much better than among a hostile population. Actions on hostile ground would probably be more often than not be limited to raids and superior concentrations of forces.



  1. A budget army can also pick up some old T-55s from various Eastern European countries or Russia, or Type 59s from China.

    These tanks are relatively simple to maintain, if old.

    One could locally develop cage armor for them to improve their survivability vs RPGs.

    If you had additional money, they could be upgraded with anything from new engines, to new fire controls and sights, to additional armor and ERA. Or converted to Achzarit or BTR-T APCs.

  2. I agree with this assessment. I would suppose that this model - wherein the armed forces are linked to the "paramilitarized" population in an operationally meaningful way - *may* see an instance where conflict is reduced between ethno-politically homogenous areas. For example, if both countries have territories that are primarily of their main constituent ethnicity, their ability to wage war against each other is restricted. But in a Balkanized case such as the Former Yugoslavia or, in a contemporary case like the mixmatch of both-ethnically-Slav-but-politically-distinct Russian and Ukrainian identities in Eastern Ukraine, the mixed populations could support war in this zone. This assumes a simplified model of human behaviour, but then again so do postgraduate academic level sociological studies.

    I am confused about one small point, what do you mean by "quality assault rifles" ? We're at a point where basically all small arms are equal except to American gun nuts, and if you use them properly, in the hands of basically anybody who isn't trusting Deity Of Their Choice to guide the ammunition onto target, there's not much functional difference between an AKM or AK-74 and the M16 family. I am wondering what you meant by this statement, as it seems rather out of character for you, SO.

    1. Pakistani workshop, old Chinese NORINCO and generally very worn AKMs tend to not shoot in the intended direction. I meant to say that those forces can afford better guns than this, possibly even some with a simple optical sight on top to make marksmanship training easier.

  3. This makes warfare connected to politics. Have the right politics and organization and you can win against the bloated current regimes. Whatever the current outcome in the Middle East, longterm the inevitable success of these ideas will create new maps all over the globe and we have hardly the means to influence these events, except to help sympathizers to have an advantage in the field.

  4. I think the interesting question behind this is what kinds of societies would generate this sort of military? Quality officer and NCO corps oftentimes lose out to political loyalty in less stable nations. More stable nations tend to be more prosperous and part of alliances, and less likely to be involved in wars with their neighbors, and as such seem to go with a little high tech vs lots of low tech (maybe I'm wrong here). You'd need a culture that supported a de-politicized military and that had a need for plenty of combat power. This means unfriendly neighbors, and probably with strong ties between the populace and the military.

    Now that I've described it (according to my very not-expert knowledge), the current example that I can think of is the Kurds. This brings in a similar scenario to low-budget vs low-budget: Low-budget High-quality vs. Mid-budget Crap-quality.

    I also wonder if this model is the regional power's expeditionary force? China or India could easily generate a pretty big force of decently trained, modestly equipped infantry supported by truck mounted weaponry. You wouldn't need massive bases and transportation infrastructure to support a force like this, and it could be a huge help to a low-budget ally who was having trouble with neighbors.

    1. India and Rwanda are among the countries with a rather good reputation of their mil leaders. Eritrea and Angola have somewhat effective forces formed by conflict.
      One of these four examples is a stable democracy which doesn't fear a coup and the three others have forces borne out of warfare itself.