Some comment replies are simply too long for the comment section:
Matthias WildeMay 3, 2012 05:30 AM
A short detour, Sven, which I would like to post at a more relevant article; problem is, though, nobody responds to the older ones.Regarding force density: I concur that much lower force densities are an obvious fact at the current time. The Bundeswehr, for example, has probably about 120K people under arms right now, compared to more than 400K during the Cold War.It makes perfect sense to cut the size of your military when you don´t have a real enemy, but why do you assume this would be the case when another "Big One" comes around?You yourself said that societies as a whole could switch to war mode quite quickly; so if SHTF what reasons would prevent western states form forming large militaries again? Why do you assume that future wars will ipso facto be low density wars?
The long-expected world war type of war would probably see a force buildup that allows for multi-million (wo)men armies (NATO could within months mobilise about 120 brigade equivalents on a European theatre, with about 80 more away from the battlefield). The principal challenges would be
(1) conversion to a war economy
(2) sustainment of a war economy (maritime trade, electricity supply)
(3) how to wage modern war with beginners.
We'd lack the reserve pool of experienced leaders after a decade or two of having tiny pro forces. "90 day wonder" 2nd Lts (U.S. in WW2) could have a comeback.
Also: Remember that NATO had 26 divisions in Central Europe during the Cold War. Even counting airborne and French reinforcements, we'd probably not have had more than 30 divisions for a front that's ~1000 km wide if drawn as a straight line. We (and the Reds as well) were stretched thinly enough to prevent regular operational reserves in-theatre. All divisions would have been expected to fight with a vastly lower force density than known from Europe 1939-1945 (save for Yugoslavian campaign, the Steppe south of Stalingrad and few other places). The first two weeks were widely considered crucial.
A huge conflict might be decided or very much influenced before the bulk of the military potential arrives. An armoured recce company raiding the last opposing military airfield at 700+ km depth has a certain appeal and its experience would not be close to Seelow heights '44.
Low force density is of even greater interest in another threat scenario; a more sudden escalation on an even more stupid "reason" for war than a World War - without lengthy force build-up. This has its greatest potential in sudden flare-ups of border conflicts à la South Ossetia as well as in regard to a Ukraine breakup scenario or a Baltic coup de main scenario.
An aggressor might see his chance in a coup de main (strategic surprise) coupled with deterring a counteroffensive with fait accompli and nuke threat. Would we really risk WW4 armageddon if the Russians had overrun and annexed Estonia by next week? Would we launch a conventional offensive to liberate it? Russia ain't Iraq, it has nukes. A low force density counteroffensive might actually stay below this deterrent 's actual threshold (this idea would require a lot of elaboration, of course).
Even "big" wars might have lots of low density fighting because of the full motorisation.
Traditional front lines had up to 10 km depth, and greater battlefields were difficult to cross on a day for an Infantry Division. Today battlegroups/Gefechtsverbände could scoot forward and backward by 100-200 km per day at ease and no continuous trench or outpost line would deter or slow them This greater depth reduces the density.
Additionally, reinforcements might trickle onto the battlefield and be reduced quickly because of attack overmatch over survivability (remember the unbelievable loss rates in Near/Mid East tank battles and in exercises!). In the end, maybe few troops would be on the (wide) battlefield at any one time.
Last but not least; my ideas/opinions do include two components for local high density combat (heavy brigades, reserve infantry formations).
P.S.: Bundeswehr strength is more like 200k now and 500 k then, and I remember 650k mob strength from just a few years ago. IIRC 150 k active is the new plan.