(This is a long one!)
Back in 2010 I wrote about what I would do in regard to German armed forces structure, and this included the quote
I propose a three-part army, optimised for the Eastern NATO border.* A 99% German, exemplary (small) Corps with a good mix of forces for Eastern European defence - as good as it gets. (x)* Bilateral or multilateral corps that are more than mere staffs. The typical German contribution per such corps would be the equivalent of a large brigade. The actual cooperations depend in part on our neighbours, of course.* The army schools and a single mixed Lehrbrigade (training, experiment and show formation) that's NOT supposed to be high on any emergency deployment list.
I'll be more specific about the corps this time, not the least because I'm so disgusted by the real thing.
My emphasis is as usual on deterrence and defence. Deterrence is a collective effort since we're in alliances, and defence would be a collective effort as well. I do not propose that the German army structure should in any way take so-called "out of area" missions (great power games, military adventures) into account.
I won't write up a typical fanboi fantasy order of battle, though. Instead, I'll lay out my reasoning of the different branches, and this will allow for a range of proper orders of battle. I will actually step away from the traditional branches a bit, for reasons.
An air war over a future war in Europe would happen in layers, of which only the middle one resembles the traditional arena of air warfare. The upper one would extent up to satellites, and any manned aviation involved in it would be extremely expensive. The fight at multiple Mach speed and extremely high altitudes is unlikely to be much about attacking ground troops directly, and most likely to be a fight for information and strikes on very high value targets. Nothing short of the corps HQ would fit into the latter category unless thermonuclear warheads become involved.
(Mounted) combat and some reconnaissance forces should possess the ability to keep aircraft and helicopters at a distance, and this should not be very expensive (the Gepard SPAAG did cost three times as much as the main battle tanks it was meant to protect!). The robustness of this defence is more important than its impressiveness in ambition. A laser beam rider missile such as the RBS-70 family would fit the description, since there are no practical countermeasures against its guidance, which cannot be said of the Heer's current Stinger missile. This component needs to be organic at the unit level of said troops, and it won't do more or less than scratching the easiest-to-defend against and at the same time most effective attacks from the opposing air power's repertoire.
There's also a need to do more, to defeat hostile aircraft at any altitude from which they could employ a large quantity of munitions against manoeuvre forces or corps troops (and occasionally intercept hostile artillery missiles of ranges well in excess of 100 km). This would be the equivalent of the classic SA-6 umbrella over Warsaw Pact (-inspired) ground forces. NATO never quite maintained such a thing, trusting fighters instead and preferring the employment of area air defences in a more rear, rather linear (and later clustered) defence. I think the French and Italians with their SAMP/T chose much more wisely than Germany with its costly MEADS development that was little more than a repairing of Patriot's huge conceptual mistake (Patriot firing units do not provide true 360° defence). The British CAMM is another such approach.
Both do away with radar illumination and use the same kind of missile guidance as air forces do in modern air combat now. This approach does in theory even enable a battery to emit nothing and rely on AEW aircraft data for firing solutions only.
Such missiles use very expensive seekers and are very expensive themselves. Even the missiles with semi-active radar homing have become very expensive (see ESSM, for example). Hostile aircraft kept at a distance may still employ cruise missiles, missiles and glide bombs to hit targets, and opposing artillery may fire guided missiles. The expensive area air defences mentioned before would be unaffordable for a defence against these munitions. The answer lays thus in relatively cheap, shorter ranged missiles of sufficient service ceilings yet a cheap guidance. The Swedish RBS-23 is an example for this kind of ammunition, and the Tamir missiles of the Israeli Iron Dome (or better the 360° C-Dome) system may fit as well, though their effectiveness has been called into question. What matters is the low price per intercept thanks to a relatively cheap guidance.
The lines between battlefield air defences and artillery have become quite blurred in the past 15 years and I'm not yet quite sure about the optimum organisation, but for the time being I think units with both kinds of area air defence systems belong into manoeuvre formations to provide a protective umbrella for them at least at times. The SAMP/T -style area air defence should also be be used by a corps-level battalion or regiment. This one should protect logistical hubs, HQ, corps support forces, infrastructure and some supply routes from air attack and should cooperate with the air forces' fighters very well.
Finally, there needs to be some kind of air defence against small, low-flying drones for the manoeuvre formations and mounted reconnaissance forces. This may end up being an infrared 360° warning device added to some remotely controlled machineguns on vehicles, but more specialised means may appear as well. It would not be an organisational issue.
And then there's the most important thing about air defence: A reliable, robust early warning service for all troops about air raids. Troops can use timely warnings to cease conspicuous activity (movement, muzzle flashes), apply camouflage or seek concealment. This is neither attractive nor a profitable big ticket procurement project, but possibly more important than all surface-to-air missiles. These warnings should not be issued by a single central, but for redundancy by just about any authorised sensor user. An artillery radar that detects an attack helicopter might issue a localized warning, for example.
I'm not in favour of reviving the dedicated anti-tank branch of the 1930's to 1990's. "Anti-tank" is no longer a speciality, it's what all combat and many reconnaissance troops need to be capable of. Anti-tank training requires some deliberations when it comes to deployment of garrisons, though: All troops should be able to train against real tanks, none of them should thus be too far away from actual tank troops. An obsolete training tank or two maintained by an infantry battalion would nor suffice; the shock of facing an entire company with its powerful sensors is something completely different.
I'm no great fan of army rotary aviation and consider it overemphasized. Well, at least Germany doesn't burden manoeuvre formations with organic army aviation.
Heavy lift transport helicopters don't have large-enough niche in a conventional war on flat terrain to justify the extremely high costs of a single new heavy lift helicopter. A tank company worth of reserve tanks would make more sense than such a helicopter if the budget is available.
Medium and light helicopters have great utility particularly in medical evacuation and to some extent for liaison flights. Most other niches are too risky or cost-inefficient. Civilian helicopters should be commandeered, most of their pilots drafted and then both be employed for medical evacuation and liaison. This naturally means that no gold-plated high-end helicopters should be used for the very same purpose by the army; their extra utility is tiny compared to the extra expense.
Finally, attack helicopters. A handful of them makes sense in order to force disadvantageous reactions on the opposing forces, but there's little reason to expect much more of them. Their per unit cost is so extremely high that there's always some better use for the funds once you have enough attack helicopters to force the opposing forces to use careful tactics and organic battlefield air defences.
The allocation of the army (rotary) aviation forces is simple; their radius of action is so very large that one such army aviation regiment should be a corps asset. No thirsty and hardly survivable helicopters shall burden the manoeuvre formations.
To drink tea with civilians has become fashionable during wars of occupation, but there's no place for this in wars of alliance defence.
There are essentially two kinds of civ-mil interactions required:
(1) "Get out of our way, get lost in this direction now!"
(2) "This is what the (your) government obliges you to organise. These are the contact info. Now hurry up and get this done, we're in a hurry!"
This doesn't require any dedicated Civ-Mil relations troops. It would help to defeat the relevant language barrier with bilingual speakers, though.
The headquarters of the corps should be kept very limited in size to overcome sluggishness. It could be separated into an administrative part that can keep working without leadership for weeks and an at most company-sized staff for actual leadership of subordinate forces. The latter one should be able to spawn a backup command post that maintains minimum performance when the HQ has to relocate or was knocked out. The leadership part of the HQ should also be able to provide a detachment accompanying the corps commander outside of the HQ. I don't propose him to necessarily lead from the spot of his Schwerpunkt, but he needs to be able to influence subordinates in person once in a while.
The bandwidth available to the corps HQ or any subordinate HQ for video feeds should be zero.
The headquarters of a manoeuvre brigade should be even smaller (small company at most) and more nimble, with an emphasis on leading from the front, but much of the time the actual formation leadership should be at battalion battlegroup level - two or three such battlegroups per brigade. Much of the brigade's support troops and some of its combat troops could form an additional support group capable of 360° 24/7 security effort in the meantime. The brigade should be able to switch between unified and battalion battlegroup mode effortlessly to match the circumstances, just as the combat troops need be able to switch between different tactics effortlessly. A brigade HQ may detach some administrative HQ detachment if not even leave it behind at the garrison. You got to dump the known dud officers somewhere before they get in the way, after all.
Dismounted line of sight combat
A.k.a. "infantry" though I want to include Panzergrenadiere here, which are not considered "infantry" by everyone.
The German army did largely shed the normal infantry. Mountain and airborne infantry had a higher standing because of more ambitious fitness requirements. We ended up with an infantry force mostly consisting of Panzergrenadiere, Gebirgsjäger and Fallschirmjäger. We have too few of the Panzergrenadiere because the extremely high expenses per seat in an IFV made them almost unaffordable (see 1, 2, 3, 4). This has to change, and my proposal is thus (as in the 3rd link) to provide the infantry with protected vehicles of moderate ambition - bulletproof and protected against most fragments, not a combat vehicle. An additional company in tank battalions should be equipped with a heavy armoured personnel carrier (HAPC) to serve as battle taxis - non-organic to the infantry and available to any of their companies in need, but not at the same time. This ensures fine protection when it matters most, keeps logistical demands moderate and would be affordable. Additional Puma vehicles with a much-reduced and greatly cheaper turret could fit this description.
The infantry strength of a manoeuvre formation (brigade) should suffice for nighttime all-round security, for clearing many villages and even small areas of woodland.
The need for Gebirgsjäger is marginal; they're not that special in swampy areas and there are very few mountains close to the alliance's frontiers (mostly Eastern Turkey and Romanian Carpathians, neither of which is a very plausible area of operations). The French, Norwegians, Romanians, Italians and Austrians (EU) have much better reasons to maintain mountain troops than the Germans.
There's even less of a niche for airborne troops; any power that would dare to attack our alliances would no doubt have powerful air defences and fighter forces.
Still, it's reasonable or at least acceptable to maintain at least some of these light infantry troops, probably in a two-combat battalion "Ranger" regiment. Specialised support units (particularly the unique mountain engineers) should be part of it. This would be a mere competence pool, "OPFOR" simulator unit and light infantry force meant for very difficult terrains (Carpathians, swamps) and subordinated directly to the corps.
No "counter terrorist" nonsense whatsoever.
Electronic warfare can be divided between active (electronic combat) and passive (reconnaissance), but I suppose it's much more useful to divide by range of effectiveness.
Let's assume the opposing forces have radar planes which can track and ID vehicles at 300 km range (this exists). A jammer that turns an area of 5 km radius unreadable should belong to individual battalions, while one with quite the same function and the ability to obscure the entire corps area of operations ought to be a corps asset. Jammers against surveillance satellites certainly should be corps assets, while GPS signal jamming in a valley would rather happen on the unit level, for example.
This is similar to the thoughts about army aviation, except that EW isn't such a burden to logistics.
EW may pervade the field army down to individual level, with warning sensors if not jammers (or even only software doing the same with hardware that's being carried anyway) used even by individual infantrymen or scouts. This began with ships and aircraft and as technology becomes more miniaturized and cheaper, it disseminates down to fighting vehicles and finally dismounted troops.
A (small) corps-level EW regiment would be perfectly reasonable in my opinion, just as a EW platoon in an infantry battalion.
The crossing of wide rivers, lowlands bridgebuilding and repair of main supply routes in the corps are of operation should be tasks for corps-level engineers. Other tasks such as mineclearing, preparing the ground for river crossings, bridgelaying, minelaying or major demolition activities should be organic to manoeuvre formations if not even reconnaissance elements. This is indispensable for timely availability.
I don't think it's useful to think of engineers as a kind of auxiliary infantry any more. Their activities have become too dependent on machines and motor vehicles, they could not deploy a meaningful quantity of auxiliary infantrymen and infantry doctrine has been enriched with much of what used to be engineer skills. The engineers that ride with mounted forces, ready to dismount and quickly defeat some obstacle, need to be trained for battle, of course.
Reconnaissance on the ground has become less scouting and much more surveillance and observation recently, with an improper emphasis on stealth. Moreover, reconnaissance has become organic to brigades, which is a dumb choice in my opinion. My proposal is thus twofold:
Combat troops handle their own security and scouting needs in a radius of approx. 10-40 km, including operation of small recce drones (smallest radius for infantry, biggest for artillery). This would be organic to the manoeuvre formations (brigades).
The real, large ground reconnaissance effort would be a corps-level affair. The corps should send out and call back evolved armoured reconnaissance units which would in turn deploy long range scouts and armoured recce small units in their assigned zone of operations. This should go well beyond being the mere eyes of the corps commander: A battalion battlegroup leader would be used to expect such recce forces to already be in place and able to inform him when he suddenly has to turn his forces into a new direction.
The armoured reconnaissance units would create such a great hazard to hostile aviation that their helicopter operations would stall. They would also be rather combative against opposing forces not ready to defend themselves - which forces great 360° 24/7 security efforts on all opposing forces, even hundreds of kilometres ahead of any NATO brigade. The armoured reconnaissance's abilities would greatly endanger area air defence batteries and forward airfields once they were detected.
Such a feat requires a larger share of resources for the reconnaissance branch of the army and a high efficiency in doing its work. These units would tire out within days, and would thus be rotated frequently, with armoured recce picking up exhausted small units on their way back.
I suppose several regiments of armoured reconnaissance are required for an army corps, and at least one regiment of (evolved) long range scout ("Fernspäher").
This is a three-stage thing.
The supply flow to the corps (or rather to its two corps supply hubs) should be handled with civilian logistics capacities using dispersed movement, with civilian police forces handling traffic issues.
I wrote "two corps supply hubs" because on an advance the rear one would be moved ahead of the other, in a retrograde movement the forward one would be relocated behind the other - and in case one was overrun, there would still be another one for almost uninterrupted supply streams.
Second, the corps should have the dedicated transport capability to push supplies forward every 2nd day at the latest, using self-protecting convoys with enough automotive performance to leave paved roads when advisable. This means 15 ton 8x8 lorries, many of which with MULTI (a.k.a. PLS or DROPS), and the convoys should have enough escort and leadership to limit the effect of armoured reconnaissance attacks and to orderly seek concealment or apply camouflage when air raid alarm is transmitted through radios.
Third, the reconnaissance forces and units of manoeuvre formations should pull these supplies from drop-off points and carry enough supplies for more than five days of autonomous operations. A single 155 mm self-propelled howitzer would thus require about half a dozen heavy 8x8 lorries as ammunition haulers organic to the artillery battalion.
Food supply should be measured in weeks while fuel capacity per motor vehicle (other than motorcycles, forklifts) should be in excess of 1,000 km for wheeled ones and 500 km for tracked ones. Additional fuel would be carried by brigade-level fuel trucks and any vehicles with much fuel left would refuel motorcycles and vehicles that are low on fuel.
Logistics also encompasses the repair shops for motor vehicles; this should be a corps-level asset, with modest maintenance and repair abilities to the units that use the motor vehicles. Defective vehicles would need be transported with semi-trailer tractors that belong to the workshops, or during riskier recovery actions by armoured recovery vehicles that would belong to battalions. I understand this is not extraordinary at all. I merely pushed typical divisional repair tasks up to the corps.
I don't think certain specialist such as dentists need to be in the army at all. In fact, even the surgeons would be better prepared for the failure of deterrence if they worked in emergency rooms than in military hospitals and medical stations. The very sophisticated care and structures used to minimize the mortality among wounded troops on military adventures such as the Afghanistan occupation would crumble under the demands of intra-European conventional warfare. A certain reorientation towards the ability to cope with mass casualties is in order, and civilian hospitals in the region need to be part of the plan. Civilians who need a scheduled surgery should probably be transported into countries farther away from the theatre of war to receive those surgeries in order to free up resources where the war makes them the most necessary.
Military Intelligence can easily be overstated in its utility, particularly so in mobile warfare. It still makes sense to keep much of the MI work out of the HQ in order to keep the HQ focused on short procedures, little need for internal communication and quick decisions. MI paints a situation picture, HQ acts on it.
Let's drop the "Feldjäger" (literally "field hunters") designation and call them "Militärpolizei" - MP - as almost everyone else does.
A strong MP element should be among the corps troops. The importance of some of the MP's jobs has been almost invisible in peacetime routine:
- handling prisoners of war, thus relieving other troops (particularly infantry)
- traffic control, including authority to dictate all civilians to yield the road to the army
The traffic control job becomes easier with motorcycles that can even drive through traffic jams. This in turn enables the MP to serve as motorcycle couriers when information cannot or shall not be delivered through radio transmissions.
The MP should also serve as security element to the corps HQ, and ensure orderly allocation of resources at corps supply hubs using their special MP authority over all other troops.
Mounted line of sight combat
Essentially, this is about tanks. It's not just main battle tanks, for the loss of autocannon fire support by IFVs would require (over-)compensation. My pet concept is still the medium calibre gun, which would turn tank battalions into vastly more versatile forces if added to them.
The old rule of thumb for flat, largely open terrain is that the tank and infantry battalions should be as 2-1 for flat, sparsely populated terrains with long lines of sight (such as the North German plains during the Cold War). I do NOT propose this, but I certainly don't propose the opposite either. The 1-1 ratio used to be considered as a "universal" compromise ratio, but I would propose it - and for a simple reason:
Some tactical challenges require that a tank battalion (~50 operational tanks) masses and acts as one to overwhelm the opposition locally (before it disperses again). I have yet to see this claimed for a force of two such battalions. The old idea of having two tank battalions per brigade was in large part meant to compensate for attrition. A single tank battalion would be too weak after days of combat. My approach is different; I would not want to have 100+ 50+ ton tracked vehicles drive with a hopefully very agile and speedy brigade: I would rather want it to have 50+ such vehicles requiring only half the repair shop capacity, keep dozens in national reserve (dispersed among the tank battalion garrisons for competent maintenance) and feed them to those tank battalions as replacements.
This is not meant to be a corps concept for one week of operations, it's rather one for weeks. The German army would (should) arrive among the first responders on NATO's Eastern frontier, and it shouldn't wear out within days, long before more distant allies (such as Spain, UK, France, Italy) respond with mechanised forces. This is a very different setting than the Cold War setting.
Overall, mounted combat with well-protected (hence heavy and tracked) and well-armed vehicles is essential to give manoeuvre formations the ability to manoeuvre in face of opposing forces. A battalion per brigade and thus a company per battalion battlegroup seems sensible. "18 ton 8x8 only" approaches make hardly any sense.
Heavy tracked vehicles cannot self-deploy well to a distant theatre of war, and the required trailers and tractor vehicles are rare. Maybe this could be changed with appropriate allocation of resources, but it's also possible to have two distinct doctrines for a manoeuvre formation / brigade: One rather aggressive tactical doctrine with an intact tank battalion and a second doctrine for before the tank battalion arrives or after it was depleted. This latter doctrine would be more defensive, albeit still not static unless the defensive line is a river.
NBC defence is a misnomer just as "Military Intelligence", but it's necessary to maintain this in order to have specialists to teach the rest of the ground forces and to have at least some reassurance and example for how for example decontamination should be done. You furthermore need the NBC reconnaissance to quell rumours of NBC munitions use by determining it was a false alarm. "NBC defence" troops would be hopelessly overburdened if the opposing forces actually employed NBC munitions, there would likely more decontamination be done by deepwading through inland waters with vehicles or using firefighter water guns than with NBC equipment. Thus let's not kid ourselves - the dedicated decontamination equipment should visibly be civilian equipment.
A robust and reliable warning system that distributes warnings about regions affected, by what and when should be maintained as well.
NBC defence should be a corps-level asset to keep the manoeuvre forces slim, though some sensors should be distributed to all kinds of units.
Non-line of sight combat
This (artillery, rockets, mortars, missiles) is largely defined by ranges and warhead types in my opinion.
The very long ranged ones (100-499 km) should be corps-level assets. It makes very little if any sense to let manoeuvre formations haul them around during manoeuvres in the theatre of operations. It would be too enticing to waste such long-ranged munitions on short range fire missions or to withhold them from employments that do not benefit the manoeuvre formation itself.
These very long-ranged munitions should furthermore be considered as a substitute for air strikes - not the least against fleeting targets spotted and identified while no air force strike package is able to exploit the opportunity.
These munitions can be launched by multiple rocket launcher vehicles, so there's no need to have any incompatibility between rocket and ground-to-ground missiles across the corps - all of them could be launched from a sufficiently versatile launcher (though those should probably be mounted both on wheeled and well-protected tracked vehicles).
Then there's the fire support for manoeuvre formations (mechanised brigades, for example). I suppose they are well-equipped with a self-propelled gun as the Panzerhaubitze 2000 for the time being. Organic rocket artillery is less desirable because rocket are more bulky and heavier than equivalent howitzer ammunition, and thus a greater logistical burden. The importance of their salvo capability has declined greatly during the post-Cold War era anyway. An occasional temporary assignment of corps artillery reinforcements for specific missions such as in the style of the TOS-1 would be the exception.
155 mm howitzers are not enough, though. Their range makes them a too high-level asset, only short-ranged fire support that's not available for helping at great distances will be reliable support. This is the case for organic, range-limited fire support. Mortars did meet this requirement for generations. Their issues in face of counter-mortar radars and long time of flight never really went away and the French rifled 120 mm mortars provide but a limited relief. Maybe it is about time to say goodbye to mortars and add a battalion battlegroup-level artillery support of organic artillery, akin to WW2-era infantry guns and 18th century Regimentsstücke.
This could take the shape of 105 mm soft recoil guns or high-low pressure guns, for example. The smaller calibre would make support with illumination rounds, pinpoint shots at identified positions and the like much more economical. At the same time, the limited range of less than 20 km would ensure the gun crew would rarely be expected to assist other units than the one it's moving with (155 mm L/2 artillery range is in excess of 30 km).*
The German army had its recruits trained in training (replacement) units that belonged to divisions for a long time. This helped particularly when recruits were from specific areas and stayed together, serving in divisions recruited mostly from one area. The Italian Alpini regiments had a similar system. The cohesion and reduced friction benefits of this largely went away when spoken language became more standardised when radio and television taught one particular 'standard' accent to the whole nation. I suppose it would make sense to connect the training to a corps when there were multiple corps, but with only one corps as peacetime strength I think a centralised training of recruits actually makes a lot of sense. The leaders of the field army should not be burdened with concerns about the training of raw recruits and so on, but rather focus on training units of individuals who are already sufficiently competent as individuals. An annual meeting in which the training leaders learn about the deficiencies in such individual competency in order to correct them for future recruits should be held, though.
This essentially applies to all forms of individual training, including officer courses and the like.
This is distinct from ground reconnaissance and mostly about the use of air force aircraft and satellites. Neither would be organic to the army corps or even only part of the German military, but their role is still noteworthy due to their ability to sense targets or their activities from hundreds of kilometres distance.
This ability is fragile, though. Radar planes such as E-8 or ASTOR could be pushed back by opposing fighters and batteries with long-range missiles to the point where they're no more able to look past the terrain dominated by friendly troops. They could also be fooled in a deception operation, provoking wrong tactical or corps-level decisions. Electronic combat could jam or even destroy their sensors (including laser use against optical reconnaissance satellites) as well.
I'd thus advise to limit the funds for such expensive systems well and to not rely on them, ever.
- - - - -
Yes, I propose to ditch the division level entirely.
A practical span of command & control would be at least four brigades per corps, but this easily grows when the brigades are led more loosely with missions and even grows further if one keeps brigades in reserve. 6-10 manoeuvre brigades per corps and dozens of armoured reconnaissance companies flooding the theatre of war (largely in a dispersed formation with quite independent platoons) with very loose control (mission specifies mostly the zone of operations and ambition level of effects) is my proposal.
We could double this strength in two years without losing too much quality by a successive application of the proven cytokinesis-like approach across the entire corps and a third corps might be built similarly by withdrawing German troops from multinational corps that I also proposed and the Lehrbrigade (see the quote at the beginning). The allies participating in these corps would grow their components up to a full corps of their own.
P.S.: I wrote this post twice, actually. The first version was eaten and digested by Blogger and never reappeared. This happened when I pressed the "back" button on Firefox three times. Suddenly, the draft was empty and no "forward" move possible any more.
*: 120 mm mortar bombs and 105 mm light howitzer shells have a very similar mass, about 15 +/- 2 kg. The required propellant mass and volume is somewhat similar for a given range (within the mortar's range limit).