Small army - dedicated scouts?

"Jed" contributed an article to the Think Defence blog titled "Time to Cancel FRES SV?", a very UK-specific question (with an answer) as is so typical of TD. Let me translate into global English:
Should a small or modestly-sized army procure specialised armoured scout vehicles?
The ASCOD IFV version a.k.a. "FRES SV"
Well, what does a scout? It's more close to he enemy forces than one's main force, senses and reports. That's its core mission and characteristic in action, albeit armoured recce can do much more. Obviously, any armoured vehicle can be used for scouting. Back in '91 the CVR(T) tankettes were supposed to scout, but the Challenger tanks' sensors were so much superior and the field of view in Iraq so much unimpeded that being more close to the enemy was of no use and the tank companies were able to rely on their own senses.

Normal combat vehicles can do the same job (as is most obvious in the case of FRES SV, which really resembles the Warrior combat vehicle a lot). Why should a dedicated, specialised vehicle be procured?
The answer which has become so self-evident that few still think about it is that specialised assets offer specialisation advantages; a division of labour advantage.

Well, I phrased the question with emphasis on small or modestly-sized armies, and this is where it becomes interesting.
As a rule of thumb, specialisation works better for large organisations. This is trivial with very small ones; a total force of ten vehicles cannot make use of 30 platform variants, for example. A force of 1,000 vehicles better not make use of 30 variants either, though. The fixed costs of adding a variant are nearly the same for a small or a large force, and are severe if you develop your own kit and have an poorly performing bureaucracy.
More specialisation instead of multi-purpose assets also leads to fragility instead of resilience: A battalion with two recovery vehicles is much more fragile than one with a recovery winch and some mats on half of the vehicle fleet. Twice bad luck and its recovery ability would be reduced to improvisation.

"Small or modestly-sized armies" should thus be wary of a great degree of division of labour at least in their platforms.

Does this mean the UK should not procure FRES SV? Not necessarily. It depends on how you approach modern warfare. There is no nature's law that combat troops are the main force. Maybe the support forces (including artillery) are the main force in this context and the troops who resemble the classic combat troops are dispensable. Maybe in the age of radio communications and long-range precision or area fires the scout is indispensable, not the main battle tank? Desert and steppe warfare offer simple scenarios in which this doesn't sound entirely ridiculous. The French intervened in Mali mostly with armoured reconnaissance (or 'cavalry') forces, not with a tank brigade.
Other modern conventional warfare scenarios tend to feature a very low ratio of troops to area as well, and again combat-worthy scouts may appear less dispensable than main battle tanks, for example.

Keep in mind that scouts in the shape of armoured cavalry as practised by the Americans, French and British are rather combat-worthy. Such forces can handle a wide range of combat mission as long as neither brute force nor a substantial infantry component are necessary.

An army as small as Denmark's could be better off focusing on armoured cavalry battalions than to focus on a manoeuvre brigade capability.

Small powers' forces design is an interesting topic and gets little publicity. As a rule of thumb, I suggest to go multi-purpose in small forces. Today's multi-purpose isn't necessarily much reminiscent of grandpa's multi-purpose, though.



  1. Do you see the biggest challenge to a small force reorganising as armoured cavalry to be creating doctrine, getting sidetracked by procurement problems, or organisational (armour, infantry, engineer and specialist artillery (FOO/JTAC) getting into branch fights)?

    1. Small bureaucracies are very different. Less voices means less dissenters/saboteurs to overcome.
      "Small" also means they don't have brute force entrenched so much in their mindset.

      Besides; the Danish and Austrian armies have a history of using shitty light tanks anyway, for example.

  2. "Besides; the Danish and Austrian armies have a history of using shitty light tanks anyway, for example."

    Well, in the case of Denmark, they were MDAP and thus free. Hard to say no to that ;-). When we actually had to replace them in the 1990s, we didn´t get a new shitty light tank.