Future war: The infantry perspective

I've got a couple of topics about future conventional warfare on my keyword list. The survivability of the infantry against a competent and adequately equipped and supplied enemy is of special interest to me in that context.
These future topics will rest on common assumptions about infantry in a future conventional war - and these assumptions deserve an own blog post:

First, I'd like to emphasize these criteria: competent and adequately equipped and supplied.

We will easily defeat incompetent enemies, enemies with inadequate equipment and enemies with inadequate supplies in a conventional war. Such enemies are still nasty as guerrillas, but pretty much hopeless in conventional war.

We should prepare for the defence of our nation and our alliance against seriously threatening enemies and not assume many enemy shortcomings in our defence preparations.

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Future infantry will face many challenges and it will necessarily adapt (hopefully in time). This adaption leads to a vastly different kind of (regular) infantry warfare than ever before.
We have accumulated many evolutionary and revolutionary changes over the past decades without really having seen a full modern war pitching two competent, well-equipped and generally comparable opponents at each other. There was no such conflict that gave a live demonstration about the state of the art.

We're in the same situation as in the first years of the 20th century when a lively discussion about land warfare tactics was raging. Armies had very little relevant experience (Boer wars, Japanese-Russian War 1904/05, colonial wars, Balkan and 19th century Wars with long since obsolete equipment) at that time.

The lethality of artillery and machine guns exposed an utter lack of survivability of classic infantry offence and defence in 1914/15 and led to rapid adaption to the new circumstances.

It would be very unfortunate if we stumbled into the next major conventional war as unprepared, so I'll attempt to contribute a few mosaic pieces to the radically new picture.

Let's first list some new challenges for modern infantry:
* significant increase in infantry arms lethality
* huge increase in aimed indirect fire lethality
* introduction of electronic warfare
* huge increase in (especially vertical and technical) reconnaissance capabilities
* significant increase in dependence on and potential of electronic communication
* huge improvement of technical means for night combat
* changed demographics and population health
* significant change of economic production output per capita (= war economy potential)
* improved passive protection

The increase in reconnaissance and lethality is a survivability challenge for infantry.
Defensive positions must not be exposed to (aerial) reconnaissance. This pretty much excludes the viability of open field defensive positions as were seen at Kursk.
A hill is not a serious concealment against reconnaissance any more.
We may rule the skies, but twenty ton air superiority fighters don't hunt three kilogram drones at 300 m altitude - we should expect effective aerial reconnaissance by the enemy.

Camouflage and deception will be of utmost importance. Cover will often not be much more useful than concealment because accurate 152mm shells can negate most cover.

The reconnaissance + fire coordination process will still take some time. Well-camouflaged positions may be disguised by advanced reconnaissance techniques, but a frequent change between imperfectly camouflaged positions might give as much survivability as staying stationary in a perfectly camouflaged one.
Imagine a jamming-saturated environment that prohibits immediate imagery transfer by radio from small drones to recon units - the drone might need to fly back to upload its information and the subsequent analysis of footage might take an hour or two.
We might even experience that moving units are more difficult targets for reconnaissance than static units.

Modern reconnaissance technologies negate much camouflage and concealment that was still effective in the 80's.
* Artificial camouflage nets can conceal/deceive, but they cannot camouflage if the enemy reconnaissance is looking for its distinct colour set and other characteristics.
* Even dense, green forests might be unable to offer proper concealment against foliage-penetrating radars (see also here).
* Most types of smoke are quite transparent for thermal sights.
* Aerial drones can detect radio activity that would usually be hidden by hills or mountains.
* Battlefield surveillance radars can detect even crawling men at several kilometers distance.

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The survivability challenge restricts the options of the infantry. It requires a good and correct training for the infantry. Know how of WW2 is in many cases outdated and outright dangerous.

The infantry should prefer to fight in these three cases only;

a) keeping up its camouflage/concealment
* Snipers can fire without compromising their location.
* Forward observers can call for effects without compromising their location.
* Mines (preferably command-detonated mines) do not (immediately) compromise the location of their users.
* Flanking fire can be undetected for critical seconds.
* Technical means (IR sights for effective fire through smoke) can create one-way vision opportunities.
* Indirect fires (like fibre-optic guided missiles) maintain a concealment or cover between shooter and target.

b) exploit its lethality for a quick advantageous fight and break contact ASAP
* Ambushes meet the criterion as they promise an unfair and quick battle.
* Hit and run attacks exploit the precious moments of surprise more than a single engagement.
* Opportunities to overrun compact positions quickly should be exploited.

c) negate enemy lethality
* Combat with plenty of support (AFVs, C-RAM, mortar counter fires, ECM, advanced smoke, decoying) can enhance the infantry's survivability by negating enemy lethality.
* A cheaper method is to stick closely to enemy forces ('hug' them) - inside their minimum safe distance of their fire support. This might be impossible in face of small precision munitions and infantry weapons lethality.

Surprise becomes a necessary and indispensable condition for survival and success in offensive actions, even very small ones. Even a meeting engagement would be won by the side that opens (effective) fire first.
Forget about evasive drills for unintended sudden contacts. You're dead if you walk into the kill zone of a competent ambushing party. Such evasion drills work against incompetent (or extremely unlucky) enemies only.
Camouflage, concealment, deception and smart movement are the means to achieve this surprise.

The golden rule for defensive success is the same as for offensive actions; you cannot succeed any more if your position was revealed minutes ago. Keep in mind that attacks should be executed with superior force and promising amounts of support. Less powerful attacks don't meet the competent/equipped/supplied criterion triad.
A detected infantry force needs to relocate if possible - ASAP. Mobility isn't as much a cornerstone of infantry as it is for mounted units, so such a sudden requirement to break a contact is quite a challenge.

The necessity to move once detected & identified puts a premium on the ability to track & hit moving targets and on the ability to restrict movement in order to undermine enemy survivability.

Tactical combat in an offensive that's being launched after both sides had the time to prepare for defence is especially difficult. Another just as likely more common form of combat would be combat in a less-prepared environment - hasty defence, hasty attack and meeting engagements. These won't include all offensive and defensive characteristics of deliberate actions - they would be 'incomplete' and have a very different face.

Forces that depend a lot on supplies will often face supply shortages and be limited in their abilities. They will also often already have suffered casualties (= a loss of capabilities, usually uneven among all kinds of capabilities).

Forward units might find themselves behind "enemy lines" when their mobility and/or communication lines were not sufficient to withdraw them in time. Infantry will be reinforced by other combat and non-combat personnel (stragglers or assigned replacements).
Fighting "behind enemy lines" requires a suitable mindset - closer to guerrillas than to fortified occupation camp style.

Imperfect situations without fully intact support, networking, positions and coordination are likely more crucial than breakthrough battles or battles with limited objective that rest on a plan. The real strength of an army becomes visible once things start to go awry.

A partial loss of abilities on one or both sides can create vastly different conditions and requirements.

Guerilla methods differ in both sustainability practices and survivability practices from regular infantry methods. Most guerilla sustainability methods are no good for regular infantry, but their survivability tactics are mostly an adaption to the high lethality of their adversaries.
We should look closely at these tactics, for we will likely need them on our own when we'll face competent and well-equipped adversaries in the future.

Western infantry has to leave its peacetime path and should seek a new setup.

improved wartime regular army sustainability practices

modern light infantry / modern irregular survivability practices

lethality and other effects on the enemy:
traditional regular army abilities plus exploitation of modern and future technologies

Just like in the 20th century, irregular and light infantry (Jagdkampf and others) tactics seem to be a great foundation for modern infantry tactics. Our infantry will face huge survivability challenges against strong adversaries in the future, and I believe it's not adequately prepared.


1 comment:

  1. Very reasonable approach.
    Anyway, all the new electronic capabilities in recon you list here make me think about the possible intoduction of some kind of decoys...