The electronics tsunami at small unit level

One of the trends of post-Cold War infantry development has been the increase of complexity at the level of infantry companies and below.


The U.S. and other nation's ground forces have increasingly pushed military intelligence functions down to company level in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Minimum Forward observer qualifications have been pushed down from company and higher levels to squad level in some cases.
Electronic communications equipment has become more general issue, with radios available down to individual infantrymen instead of down to squad or platoon level.
Electronic communications and electronic warfare equipment has become more general issue. Jammers have become almost standard equipment on individual vehicles and squads on patrol, instead of being pretty much brigade- and division-level equipment.
Portable sniper detection gear (usually acoustic) for patrols.
Snipers/Designated marksmen have become accepted as standard at the squad's level (this is actually something where NATO forces closed a decade-old doctrinal gap to Warsaw Pact infantry and their Dragunov rifles).
Night sight equipment has also become standard down to individual level, not squad or platoon level.

Some armies use additionally indirect fire weapons like commando mortars at platoon level. All armies issue anti-tank weapons at squad level (they were platoon to regimental-level weapons in WW2!).

Today's infantry platoons are - if they adopted the recent changes - about as complex as a WW2 battalion in their equipment and missions.
It's even more extreme; WW2 battalions were trained with a quite good idea how they will be used in combat while our forces can expect everything from nuclear war to police training functions, with varying degrees of probability

My winter project is studying modern electronic warfare and I will write later about this.
So long I'm just wondering whether this degree of complexity can be kept and whether such changes require huge changes in the training and personnel scheme.

It looks to me (and others) as if the readiness for conventional and occupation warfare requires much more training time than is being granted - unless we ditch some of the complexity in missions and equipment (or innovate to educate and train personnel much more efficiently than ever before) or accept incomplete and sub-standard training and performance.

It might be necessary to use much more experienced and well-trained personnel for the same positions than before - beginning with an infantryman training of one year including basic training instead of usually five to eight months.

It may also be necessary to add personnel to ease the load of functions and sheer equipment weight on the units and sub-units: Imagine a platoon or company with an additional squad for electronics specialists, for example. The possible specialist jobs and tools in that squad are numerous:
Radio direction-finding, radar warning, communications and fuse jamming, long-range communications, high tech mine detector, unmanned scouting vehicle, unmanned aerial scouting vehicle, reserve batteries, fuel cell battery charging backpack and carrying of night sights at daylight.

We cannot expect to load this stuff into the traditional platoon/company without overloading the troops. The addition of armour to the individuals is already pushing the infantry to the limit without these gadgets.
The effect on not physically very fit individuals (like reservists, personnel from non-infantry units and infantrymen who recovered from injury) is exhausting, slows down the unit and produces physical injuries.

The good thing about this additional squad (it must not replace one of the other squads) would be its availability as an additional reserve. It adds some flexibility to the company or platoon much beyond the utility of its electronics.

Combat medics, engineers and even a mortar crew could join this support and reserve squad.

The design of infantry squads, platoons and companies is a popular hobby among military theorists and hobbyists. I respect some of them very much (albeit I don't always agree with them), especially William F. Owen, for example. He bases his opinion on very extensive research and experiments.

I've never ever seen much appreciation for the novel force requirements of the electronics expansion at the small unit level, though.

Some of those people who discuss small unit force structures don't seem to be well-educated or even experienced in electronic warfare, and might fail to include it as a relevant variable of influence.



  1. I've always asked myself why we didn't have a few of these: http://www.combatreform.org/ut2000tacticaltow.gif
    You could carry a lot more fancy new electronic equipment with you at much less exhaustion.
    Not everybody in a squad needs one, rather rotate it to keep all fit and have a quick release for dangerous situations.

  2. It restricts th squad's behaviour.

    It's possible to lift it over fences, but humans re animals and tend to avoid such effort. A wheeled vehicle would restrict the squad's movement largely to routes that fit nicely for the vehicle. The squad would probably not climb a hill diagonally even if appropriate because the trailer would flip, for example. Plus whoever pulls the trailer might have panic reactions when under sudden fire, compare problems to open seat belt in an emergency.