Mounted forces survivability in high-end conventional warfare

This will be a summary of some musings of mine back in 2008 and 2009. It's going to be very abstract.

Let's think about mounted forces survivability, such as a mechanised mixed battalion battlegroup of roughly hundred vehicles, most of them tracked and armoured.
Furthermore, let's only think of artillery and fixed wing air attack. This focus shuts out all the distractions from the other threats and allows for more clarity, akin to the ceteris paribus technique. It serves clarity of thought at the expense of not dealing with the whole complexity (which would fail anyway).

One possible option to reduce the losses taken by hostile artillery fires would be to just keep moving. Save for missiles which find and lock onto targets after launch all artillery munitions are very much degraded in their effectiveness if the target is moving, and unpredictably so.
The battlegroup will run into troubles caused by movement, though: Vehicles will get stuck or involved in accidents, fuel consumption will be excessive, and crews particularly in tracked vehicles will tire out very quickly - even before the material breaks down from wear. So movement can be a temporary solution only.

A second option is to try to counter attacks with active, hard kill defences. Artillery shells, rockets and missiles would be intercepted by incredibly expensive (and bulky) defensive systems, and air attack would be countered by the firepower of air defences. This happens to require de facto constant radio emissions, which will be unacceptable against a peer threat. The defences would be defeated through tactics (such as saturation) and hardware sooner or later. The expenses required to prepare such a hard kill defence for an entire battlegroup would be excessive anyway, and a too large share of the force would be occupied by this defensive mission, leaving the battlegroup weak in its other defensive missions and in its offensive mission.

A third option would be to try to counter attacks with active, yet soft kill defences. Sensors of aircraft and munitions would be jammed in some way, false radio emissions profiles would be generated and so on. Again, this ends up being very, very elaborated and sophisticated. Nowadays a division would be glad to have enough such soft kill defences against artillery reconnaissance and air power to hide a single battalion battlegroup. Many soft kill defences (such as radar jammers) would be emitting constantly and thus be destroyed soon. A permanent employment of smoke would furthermore be unacceptable from a logistics point of view.

A combination of some movement, some soft kill defences and some hard kill defences is almost exactly the recipe preferred by real (first and second) world mechanised ground forces, of course. The fourth ingredient is the fourth option: Hide. Hide in woodland, hide among or in buildings, hide behind hills, maybe even hide among civilian road traffic. Hiding has become more difficult, though. Nowadays very distant radars cannot only detect a tank, but also its track marks on the terrain. The tank usually is at the end of such track marks. Radars can also tell tracked from wheeled vehicles over impressive ranges.

So the normal and seemingly self-evident approach is to combine all four; concealment, movement, soft kill defences and hard kill defences to increase the survivability of mounted forces.

Now there's a huge problem: How to apply this in terrain such as many almost featureless Eastern European flatland areas? This isn't such a problem in the Baltics which have much woodland, but the Ukrainians sure have a huge problem - even through the Russians don't use their air power for air attacks.

Mounted forces might end up hiding and resting in sufficiently large concealment-rich areas only to occasionally sprint across the open terrain to the next suitable resting area. This may help understand the "Stop & go tactic" text which I wrote more than six years ago. The technological approaches to survivability - soft and hard kill defences- may be useful, but aren't sustainable. They may be applied to protect the sprints, and this may both be an organic and a theatre-level effort. A corps commander may for example order a battalion battlegroup to extricate itself from a mess and muster much support - including fighters, radar jamming aircraft, ground-based radar jammers, air attacks, artillery fires and so on - to protect this movement. Maybe the lethality of ground and air forces is at such an advantage over their survivability that entire corps consisting of a dozen battlegroups only dare to more one battlegroup at a time, supported by many others, corps-level assets and theatre-level assets. Parallel movements may be restricted to the most rewarding opportunities and the most desperate attempts.

Where to hide?
In much of the Ukraine and Belarus the only vehicle hiding spots
against ground observation are trenches created by soil erosion.

And this - even mounted forces hiding out of well-justified fear, being immobilised just as were armour-clad infantry sitting behind an Afghan wall waiting for help against some not yet spotted rifleman who shot at them - may be a central element in replacing the long-lost frontlines: When ground forces don't advance out of fear on a large area that's not much different from them not advancing past a rather discernible line on the map because of oppressive fear of defensive fires along that line. Only great efforts or a general disorder and confusion among the opposing forces would then lead to a mobile warfare phase.

The idea that battlegroups or brigades simply move through open terrain as if it was an Arabian desert, trusting that they're superior there at least to infantry, that idea seems incredibly misplaced in much of Europe. The necessity to increase the survivability of individual manoeuvre elements by a concerted effort may soon (or already) be so pressing that it could be compared to the need to dig in and form continuous front lines back in 1915.



  1. Don't forget that digging in vehicles can greatly boost survivability. It can even boost concealment (in terms of peas and clam shells).

    1. That's largely irrelevant against artillery and air power.
      Furthermore, digging in displaces soil, which makes hastily excavated fighting and resting positions rather suspicious.
      Against long range ground observation it's much simpler and less laborious to bivouac in defilades, which only need to be about 2-4 m deep.
      As mentioned, soil erosion areas are likely hiding places in East European flatlands if one can enter and leave them with vehicles reliably.
      Soil Erosion happens even in flatlands.

    2. Crew members do not live their lives in their vehicles with hatches down. Being below the splinters when the initial blasts hit the position greatly improve longevity.

      Yes, if you can be in a natural 3m deep defilade, wonderful. However, those things are like tree lines that run parallel to the front lines: obvious locations for a hide.

      Futhermore, a combat team of armoured vehicles naturally chews up vast amounts of soil. Given a few blades on some vehicles and a couple days to work then *every* decent fighting and lager position in the neighbourhood will have been augmented. Since decent positions are pretty obvious on a map, seeing displaced soil only tells you that it is one of four or five alternate locations. Which is exactly the number of alternate locations you would have picked out on the map in any case (cause they all got augmented).

    3. A battalion that spends three days creating an elaborate network of fighting positions is unlikely to be in a state to fight, or might possibly even miss the war.

  2. These are pertinent 'musing' questions for cadets and commanding officers at the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr, Westpoint, Sandhurst, Saint-Cyr...
    during Ukraine (2014-present), Syria, Iraq... = no score = no win = diplomacy; HM!

    1. Many manuals cover survivability on the battlefield, like FM 5-103:
    Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, this blogmaster's book recommendations:
    a. "The Blitzkrieg Legend";
    b. "Taktik im Russlandfeldzug";
    c. "Handbuch der Taktik" (even I had to order them from Argentina, Spanish translations);
    d. and the many jewels that the blogmaster wrote here...

    2. 'Where to hide?'
    a. Let the OPFOR wonder about it! Why should we be the mouse, and the OPFOR be the cat?
    But I accept that one cannot just turn the chessboard and withdraw from poker, to answer the question.
    As it was pointed out: ‘manoeuvring, rapid dispersion, digging, camouflage… So the normal and seemingly self-evident approach is to combine all four’
    If OPFOR artillery and aircrafts (airports) are within range and such a problem, let's capture them and use them immediately against OPFOR (Sharon, Yom Kippur).
    Younger, stronger, naturally more talented panzer/multiarms officers from Reputed Military Schools from around the World will always come up with some more non self-evident options (?).
    Please "do not send those LOOSERS OFFICERS that failed in Ilovaisk and Debalchevo"

    b. Eastern European scenario
    The other huge problem in a scenario taking place in Eastern European flatland areas, is the climate and its effects on the terrain (mud, swamp, flood…),
    material and humans (extreme cold, humidity/dryness, food/medications…).
    I found the illustration picture of this paper almost ideal and relaxing, like a vacation on the country side.
    Yet, I wouldn't like to appear sceptical, but I have imagined a landscape resembling snowy prairies,
    the same picture covered with snow at -20°C. I don't know what you imagined? But the only competent force there, will
    always strike back at -50°C, or even less [they are at home].

    3. Strong points
    Often, warefare/survivability revolves around (even moving) strong points (e.g. DDAY Normandy 1944,
    Ukraine: blockposts, airports, villages, towns and big cities).

    4. If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going (WINSTON CHURCHILL [?])
    Let the OPFOR wonder about it. Why should we ALWAYS be the mouse, and the OPFOR be the cat?
    If we are still in an eastern European scenario, we are like Japanese in Manchuria.
    The woodland of the Baltic’s is very reassuring but it is not an absolute security (Battle of Tannenberg).

    5. 'Turtles' from the East European Prairies
    Т-14 Армата/Объект 148 is only one kind of 'turtles' that one can meet in the East European Prairies.
    The small 125mm barrel obviously does not belong to the T-14 turret and chassis (parrade). It is an interchangeable platform of many weapons and calibres + short-medium range air-defence.
    It is a very agile 30+hp/t; turret is responding to the eye command within less than 1/2 second (on 360°).

    Infantry: minimum IIIA full body (arms and legs and neck collar) + type V chest, back and head protection (Russian forces at Donetsk airport).
    RPG-29 attack vs T14 = multiple simultaneous (3-4/second) at angles < 45° = 0 destruction = full protection from RPG.
    'I am sceptical; I have not fully confronted that Tank to My Anti-tank Services'.

    6. Cohesion/ brotherhood/ sisterhood/ the 1 body and soul doctrine

    Discrimination, racism, torture, ethnic cleansing, slavery, mass murders, genocide (5 points of Geneva 1948 and...) attract fighters;
    but on the other side(s).


    Historical funny quotes:
    "Stop sending people to kill me... If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second."

    1. One non-self-evident option to boost survivability is to force disorder on the OPFOR (through radio jamming, rapid manoeuvres) to keep him from bringing his power to bear fully. Though you either need to defeat OPFOR quickly during this effort or the effect will wane since the effort isn't sustainable.

      By the way; I disagree on the body armour thing:

  3. The blogmaster read my mind on that. I don’t even need to write a comment!?
    1. The ‘effort’ should last ‘as long as needed’ (decades = cold war); it’s a multi-billion dollars ‘high end game’ business. That (human, ferocious…) enemy that we imagined in our minds, does not exist (except in Stalingrad ‘not a single step back’ situations = JIHAD [?])

    2. I imagined a scenario where we were already working in an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) environment. I thought I could bring my old SPRUT-SD. But since they were striking from outer space; we changed our tactics. We go for their Command and Control Centers… with axes.

    3. I understand the blogmaster’s disagreement about individual armour, I am self aware of the ‘calamity weight’ vs mobility/action. A new Treaty? Trotyl charges blowing at point blank; in your face.
    Then, I invite you to explain it to the warriors, medics, nurses, families, friends… that see dead comrades coming back from the frontlines in improvised ambulances.

  4. http://blog.xbradtc.com/2016/03/how-not-to-infantry.html