2017/05/18

Theory of conventional land warfare at low force density again

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There's a thing that you must not neglect when weaker and on the defence, even if this means neglecting everything else; reconnaissance and surveillance. The less assets you have, the more crucial it is to know how best to use them, and when to extract them from a crisis situation. You need knowledge about the enemy more than ever.

It's quite the same at low force density (few troops in a large region); some small element may encounter a superior hostile element any time because troops are not evenly dispersed. Local inferiority emphasises the importance of knowledge about the enemy. It's essential to avoid superior forces (or to delay them) and it's essential to extract a weaker element in a situation of impending doom.

The other ingredient is artillery, since it potentially covers a large area (or frontage) with its fires and is the quickest reinforcement for a locally inferior force.

General Otis, who had lived on that terrain, was also concerned about the ability of the two weak brigades to hold or even to cover 20 kilometres of ground. General Balck countered by saying that he would rely heavily an artillery in this sector.

There's still no major arms racing despite heavy mechanised forces and artillery have become fashionable in European NATO again. War scenarios for the defence of NATO (= what matters for conventional deterrence) are still showing a lower force density than the Cold War's Central European scenarios where a mere 26 NATO divisions faced a superior quantity of WP divisions on a roughly 1,000 km wide front for the first week. One brigade per 10-15 km frontage was a thin 'line', nowadays it's not unreasonable to expect temporary gaps as wide a a hundred km between brigades.

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This should lead to a preference for scouting/skirmishing and artillery forces for "first two weeks of conflict" NATO ground forces in my opinion.

Instead, we see indications that more tank battalions and more artillery battalions will be raised in Germany after there was a perceived need to raise more infantry (Jäger) battalions during the Afghanistan occupation years. I have no knowledge of accurate plans (and doubt there are such plans yet), but there seems to be a neglect of scouting.

I write "scouting" for a reason; "observation" is not neglected. There are fine observation vehicles and (old) battlefield radars in use. Maybe the long range recon patrols (Fernspäher) should be more numerous (and accordingly less "special"), but overall surveillance and observation have gotten a lot attention post-Cold War. Technological progress was happening, and it was fashionable to exploit it (long range thermal cameras mostly).
It's the scouting part that's missing. Germany gave up the Luchs 8x8 vehicle years ago (out of service since 2009). It was quite silent, but its concept was stuck in the 1930's**. Nowadays we'd need something with a better gun, with better sensors, much smaller and with 360° camera coverage instead of a second driver for driving backwards. Sadly, there's no such vehicle available off-the-shelf that doesn't have the drawback of a too high ground pressure. It seems that either the expectations for the armament or the expectation for smallness won't be met. We have a choice between something Panhard VBL-like*** with a light armament (no more than a 20 mm gun such as the M621) and something as big as the Panhard SPHINX****.

It doesn't quite seem as if the doctrinal mistake of giving up scouting and focusing on surveillance & observation is going to be corrected in Germany and several other European countries (obviously excluding France) any time soon. The fashionable status of conventional land forces for deterrence should have led to more attention on scouting, but it doesn't seem so.

This may be because of the hopes on aerial drones as eyes in the sky. Aerial drones will not deliver persistent surveillance over a European battlefield, though. Much less will they be able to do true scouting here in the 2020's. They won't look into garages and sheds, under bridges, into buildings, talk to civilians, judge the state of foliage-covered forestry roads et cetera. This may become feasible in the long term (2030+), but that's a mere possibility and the gap is real. We shouldn't need to parcel out main battle tank trios for (noisy!) scouting while we have but a couple hundred of those.

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This was so far mostly about "economy of force"; the weak forces that avert disaster in most places with as few assets as possible so the Schwerpunkt actions can be as powerful (irresistible) as possible.

I'd like to add that this temporal parallelism is not necessary, and at times not even advisable. We should strive to shape the battlefield in our favour before seeking a battle***** - battles should be decided ahead by preparations, not during the battle itself. This means that the conceptual and doctrinal Schwerpunkt should be on those forces that shape the battlefield in our favour. Scouting and skirmishing forces attached to corps or theatre command may do this by reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance and interdiction of supply flows.

We should pay more attention to such scouting, skirmishing and raiding forces. MBT battalions represent a brute force approach that befit the targets of a strategic surprise attack much less.

one more link to a related post:

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*: Attack helicopters were believed to be very quick reaction forces during the 1970's (Brossolet et al) under the impression of experiments which yielded an exaggerated estimate of attack helicopters' lethality against tanks and before army officers began to understand how easy it had become for fighters to kill helicopters even at treetop altitudes. Helicopters are slower than artillery anyway; Artillery may intervene in a 4 minute skirmish 30 km away, while helicopters would arrive several minutes late.
**: Daimler Benz had a prototype 8x8 of such a concept in 1927 and the Büssig-NAG Sd.Kfz 231 of 1937 was almost identical to the Bundeswehr's Luchs in its concept.
***: SPHINX  and many other scout cars neglect the ability to comfortably and quickly dismount one scout to inspect buildings, climb to a better vantage point, look under a bridge and so on.
****: Germany could  upgun its Fennek, but its ground pressure is too high for soft soils without a substantial armament already. There are plenty soft soils in Eastern Europe, even in summer.
*****: I reject the inflationary use of the word "battle" for just about every firefight. I don't count anything smaller than a contact with more than a thousand dead as a "battle". Anything smaller is a "skirmish" (Scharmützel) at most.
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14 comments:

  1. The Russians are already very good at anti-UAV warfare and electronic warfare. Can we substitute UAVs for scouting, then? It seems highly unlikely.

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    1. That's so far mostly about disrupting radio links. It doesn't keep drones from searching, detecting, returning and reporting.

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    2. There is already at least one serially produced Russian anti-drone gun. http://antikopter.ru/perenosnoy-kompleks-elektromagnitnogo-i-optiko-elektronnogo-podavleniya-bespilotnykh-letatelnykh-apparatov-grazhdanskogo-naznacheniya-pkp-bpla

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    3. That's one of those directional radio and SatNav jammers. A drone with inertial navigation chips and autopilot would continue its mission in face of such countermeasures.

      There's not going to be the one countermeasure anyway. Bird-like drones require different tools (shotguns and other small arms, nets, maybe small fighter drones) than larger drones meant for maybe 1,000 m altitude. Drones with low radar observability that fly above ManPADS ceilings would require yet another set of countermeasures.
      To jam radio or SatNav would reduce the repertoire of military drones, but not defeat any but the most stupidly designed ones.

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  2. Finnish battalions and brigades can conduct far reaching recon and surveillance. Battalion has recon platoon and brigade recon company. Their vehicle is dependant on the mother unit but all are capable of dismounted recon. Also all FO squads can be used and there are FO batteries that are speficially used for surveillance of large areas that otherwise would be empty of troops.

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    1. I laid out in the second last link of this post why organic scout organisation is stupid.

      http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2014/06/the-historical-problem-of-carrier-borne.html

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    2. I see your point and disagree. I know you favour crosstraining and using infantry for recon. Such missions can last for days and any personnel allotted to such mission will hamper platoons/companies ability to operate during that period. Jaeger companies in Finland have organic recon squad and all platoons conduct close recon related to companies need for information. Having recon platoon HQ joined with battalion HQ enables fast processing of the intelligence and decision making. Having jaeger companies conduct recon that isn't possible.

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    3. In that context I would rather expect LRRP teams of 5-6 to conduct the recce and surveillance.

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  3. >> I have no knowledge of accurate plans (and doubt >>>there are such plans yet), but there seems to be a >>neglect of scouting.>>>

    There was a Frontal 21 report not long ago in which the new plans for the structure of the German Heer were detailed and some plans leaked.

    https://www.zdf.de/politik/frontal-21/aufruestung-bei-der-bundeswehr-100.html

    >>>We have a choice between something Panhard >>>VBL-like*** with a light armament (no more than a 20 mm gun such as the M621) and something as big as the >>Panhard SPHINX****.>>>

    In my opinion a new RECCE Version of the LAV-25 would be a very low priced and advantegous option. To lower ground pressure one can use a tracks over wheels equipment like the one recently developed from STK (Singapur) which would lead to a kind of halftrack for difficult terrain. Moreover it is amphibious and could be air-dropped.

    For armament i would not put heavy conventional machine cannons in a turrett on such a vehicle. With a recoilless machine cannon like the RMK-35 such a vehicle would have enormous firepower in comparison to weight and size.

    And for the sensor phalanx one could easily use existing systems which are delivered actually for example for the canadian (LAV 6.0) or the Australian Army (LAND400). The named sensor suites would also fit in an LAV-25.

    Such a solution would not be off the shelf, but all the named systems are fielded and can be bought on the spot and the LAV-25 as the basic plattform is fully developed and combat proven and very cheap.

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    1. This wasn't about hardware, it was about doctrine and priorities.

      The part about VBL and SPHINX was merely hinting that there would be trade-offs, which again would need to be answered by a doctrinal choice.
      Something like SPHINX would be much more combat-oriented, while something like VBL would be rather small and more numerous, but individually much less combat-capable.

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  4. If i may ask a question in this context? In other posts of yours you suggest a light mechanised scouting regiment with many (independent) companies which then can raid deep into the territory through the gaps.

    Why not size this even up from the concept and create complete brigades of such troops ? So all this scouting/raiding/light mechanised forces would be concentradet in such a brigade? This kind of troops would also be very flexible and usable troops in many ways, also in "colonial" / "expenditonary" warfare.

    In such a compact brigade such Scouting Troops could very easy also have organic lightweight artillery (for example ARCHER), air-defence which can also be used for anti-tank (Multi Mission Launcher) and ECM/ECCM abilities and the can diverse for infiltrating and then raiding deep into the room, and then fast concentrate for combat and because of the bigger size and more abilities in the TOE such a Scouting Brigade would have much more fighting power and could therefore achieve much more damage.

    Instead of a regiment i would suggest a brigade of such troops, organised then in bataillons and with some organic light infantry and light mechanised pioneers in it. What would you think about that ?

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    1. There's an overlap between regiment and brigade, though I think "brigade" signals a combined arms formation while regiment usually doesn't (and sometimes a "regiment" is merely a big battalion).

      The Americans had the armored cavalry regiment which was very weak on infantry and meant as a screening force. It's not quite what I am thinking of, though. An ACR would be mis-used as a tank brigade because it's too similar to one.

      Regarding organic arty and air defence in skirmisher/raiding forces; think this
      http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2010/04/medium-calibre-allround-option.html
      on scout tanks/cars (scouting tanks additionally HVMs) plus a few specialised and longer-ranged assets in support platoons that hide and don't scout themselves.

      The skirmisher companies could be combined with a light infantry/ranger battalion to provide direct fire, AT, indirect fires and air defence to said light infantry. There would even be a few APCs.
      So in case the scenario does not befit skirmishing/raiding or the doctrine fails in general there's still a combined arms use for these forces.

      Your concept is what the Americans had in ACRs, and would lead to what they meant to do with ACRs. It would particularly lead to thinking in terms of battalion battlegroups, not in autonomous companies.
      You won't so easily encircle a deployed opposing forces' brigade if you don't break your forces down into companies as units of manoeuvre. To cut off four possible routes would require four battalion battlegroups - more forces than the encircled brigade itself. It's much more efficient if you can do so with four or up to eight companies.

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    2. I meant a combined arms formation, thats the reason why i wrote about a scouting brigade. Of cause such an unit could be used as an (fast and light) tank brigade, but this does not mean, that it is used in this way always and under every circumstances, to the opposite: that you can use it this way additionaly i would not see as an disadvantage, but an advantage. It gives this unit more flexibility and more options. And especillay the size to sustain and fight on after losses. That you have more and more differen troops under your disposal does not mean, that you cannot send forward autonomous scouting companies. You could even design them from the start as autonmous companies withhin the brigade and therefore spare logistic/supply/maintaince troops so this kind of brigade would become even slighter and therefore faster.

      What i am talking about is a brigade with autonomous scouting companies and additional more striking power, especially nlos firepower in form of true (and light and fast) artillery and independent tank-hunting companies, pionieers and so on.

      So such a brigade would not send four bataillon battlegroups to cut of four routes, but indipendent companies and can then assist this companies with its own strong nlos firepower, can assist them in difficult terrain with its own pioniers and so on.

      That you have an brigade an bataillons does not mean that you have to use bataillon battlegroups. You can split such an bataillon as easily like an regiment.

      And if you use the units not this way, the unit as a whole then has much more combined arms fighting power, which i would regard as an advantage, especilly because you must not use other units firepower in this case to strengthen it or have to presume it to other units.

      Moreover such strong and organic firepower would give the said companies much more defence against enemy counter-attacks and much more destroying power in the rear areas of the enemy and in cases of combat by opportunity in comparison if the only use their own medium calibre weaponry.

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  5. The French use their vehicles in a mix.
    Leclerc/AMX10rc/ERC/Jaguar platoons always has a VBL on a 1:1 scale as Chasers.
    They provide foot scouts and extra Security.

    They have a fire team structure of 6 soldiers in all cavalry units. On foot they then have a perfect size for observation over time and leaping patrols.
    If they use heavier set ups like Leclerc, then the VBL stay back and only shows up for delivering extra help in basing areas+ foot reconnaissance

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