A "budget brigade" for 2020

Modern military equipment is expensive, and small ground forces have a hard time building and maintaining full competence in the full range of specialisations in a well-rounded army.
One example: The Czech military has only about 20,000-25,000 military personnel including the air forces - a typical divisional slice (army personnel per division) used to be in excess of 30,000 personnel in the Cold War NATO. It's impossible to maintain even only a division and some participation in a corps HQ with such a small military.

I'd like to propose a specific approach to get the best value for the money in such cases, and it takes into account what I wrote earlier about the need to resist enticing "balanced" forces. It is not my intent to propose to degrade small alliance members into pools for very specialised auxiliary troops, of course. Ideas such as one country specialising its entire military on NBC defence are nonsense. Such a national military should maintain the ability to revert to a national defence doctrine without allies in the short term.

My proposal is to set up versatile "budget brigades"* and to attach them to corps (or divisions) of allies, including a detachment of officers and NCOs contributing to the divisional or corps HQ and as liaison officers and NCOs at divisional or corps support troops. A small allied country would not need to raise or maintain specialised support troops this way.

The first principle for such a budget brigade is thus to shed specialised support and instead arrange for receiving such support from a higher level HQ's (foreign) support units. This greatly reduces the quantity of different jobs and career paths in a small army.

The second principle would be to cut costs by never paying development costs directly, save for communications compatibility or language translation. It just makes no sense to develop anything much more sophisticated than a shovel specifically for very small armed forces. The British were able to throw away hundreds of millions of pounds for preliminary development work on some already existing armoured vehicles without getting a single one into service. This makes no sense for a force with but a single tank battalion (or even only for the British). A group of small allies with small individual armed forces could ask arms makers to develop a certain item and then pay for this as part of the purchase deal, of course.

The third principle would be to keep training simple and equipment standardised. The quantity of different vehicle and engine types in the brigade should be cut to a minimum to make maintenance and repair training easier. Compliance with alliance-wide (de facto) standards enables the use of their supplies in times of crisis,exploiting alliance-wide economies of scale.

The fourth principle is to control one's desire for great quality and high technology. 'Great' is the #1 enemy of 'good enough'. KISS - Keep it simple stupid. One needs self-discipline in developing a reasonable force structure with very constrained resources.

A "budget" brigade could look like this:*

HQ Coy (including signals and MP platoons)

2 Infantry Bn (mobility by bulletproofed 6x6 lorries)

1 Tank Bn (3 Coys with MBTs, 1 Coy HAPCs with dozer blades)

1 Artillery Bn (24 105 mm SPGs based on bulletproofed 6x6 lorries)

1 Logistics Bn (15 ton 8x8 lorries mostly)

1 Engineer Coy (4 recovery and 2 bridgelayer tanks, few bulletproofed 6x6 lorries with dismounting engineers)

Sophisticated surveillance (air search and artillery radars, passive electronic intelligence, aerial reconnaissance) would be omitted. Reconnaissance at short ranges would be done by the line of sight combat battalions themselves (tank Bn mounted recce and security, infantry Bn dismounted and small flying RPVs/UAVs).
Engineer support for river crossings would be omitted. Air defence would be limited to jam-proof Bolide missile launchers and machineguns in use with artillery, infantry and logistics battalions' support companies. Long-range artillery and all mortars would be omitted in favour of a modest calibre howitzer artillery. The artillery's mission thus includes the support tasks usually assigned to heavy mortars, but does not include fire support for distant non-organic forces (neighbouring brigade, armoured reconnaissance forces).

Anti-tank tasks would be shared by all combat battalions (tank, infantry and artillery) without any special vehicles or dedicated AT small units.
Expensive infantry fighting vehicles would be done away with, replaced by heavy armoured personnel carriers (HAPC, if available) in the transport role (battletaxi doctrine) without the burden of many expensive electronics. Remotely controlled weapon stations with a 20x102 mm gun on each MBT turret (operated by the loader) would substitute for IFV autocannons. The HAPCs should be left unarmed to guarantee that they will neither be misused as combat vehicles nor be put at risk without MBT support.** They should be able to double as medical evacuation vehicles (stretcher-compatible seats, combat medic backpack onboard). Air defences are limited to (V)ShoRAD, unable to defend against attacks from medium altitudes with precision-guided munitions.
Electronic warfare capabilities would be limited to warning and self-protection jamming.

My compromise in favour of 105 mm artillery is in part driven by the cluster munitions ban and in part by the rise of effective multiple rocket launcher ranges, the combination of which removed the original reason for NATO standardising on the 155 mm calibre. 105 mm is still a common-enough calibre for the ready availability of shells, propellants and fuses and it's very efficient.

The brigade could quickly road-march ready for a defensive task and would become capable of participating in an operational offensive action once the tank battalion was unloaded from rail wagons, did a road march to the brigade and completed the then advisable maintenance and refuelling break. The extra expense of tank transporters is not to be expected.

Small NATO members could afford one useful manoeuvre brigade or even several such brigades with this approach. Useful pairs for bi- or multinational corps (or binational divisions) with such brigades could be:
Belgium + France
Czech Republic + Poland
Denmark + Germany
Lithuania + Poland 
Netherlands + Germany***
Slovakia + Poland****
Slovenia + Croatia*****
Portugal + Spain

Cold War NATO did arrange for national commitments for certain forces during the early Cold War, at least for Central Europe. Members pledged to provide a certain quantity of divisions (Germany pledged 12 of 26, provided 11 real  divisions and additional troops). This fizzled away after the end of the Cold War  - nowadays there's seemingly little common orientation. Individual governments create 'balanced' military forces coined by seemingly arbitrary budget changes, a desire to keep a seemingly balanced and complete force and an interest in non-defence missions such as occupations of some Muslim countries, blue helmet missions et cetera.

A definition of a small NATO brigade template and individual small members' pledge to provide a certain quantity thereof might be a good idea. It would re-focus military force structures on the alliance's deterrence and defence purpose, and help these countries to stay on track towards actually useful manoeuvre formations instead of assortments of individual battalion equivalents of questionable utility.


P.S.: An example for 15 ton 8x8 lorries is the 8x8 15 ton HX series. "bulletproofed" means in this context simple welded RHA plates compliant with STANAG 4569 level 2, including roof.

Bn = battalion, Coy = company

*: Working title only. A realistic final title could be "NATO standard brigade".
**: This is essential to keep a company-sized element in action past the first two days. It's utterly counter-intuitive to keep a heavily protected vehicle unarmed without a red cross on it, but it sure makes a lot of sense. These HAPCs should seek concealment (including smoke) or cover instead of firefights. A look at a vehicle can easily lead one to think of it as an individual vehicle instead of as a tiny part in a larger organisation. That's how early tank developers mounted guns and firing ports in all directions instead of having tanks rely on all vehicles of a platoon supporting each other, for example. A RWS with a 20 mm gun would be no technical challenge for a HAPC, but it would entice the troops into overly risky behaviour, and the vehicles would be lost for their actual purpose; protected mobility for infantry under fire. 
***: There's already close cooperation and integration.
****I assume Slovakia would want to confirm its independence by not cooperating with the Czech Republic on this. 
*****: Binational Divisional HQ and national divisional support battalions. I suppose the nationalistic Hungarian government would not be available for a cooperation.

edit 2016-09: Some more explanation about the choice of 105 mm over 155 mm: The extra range of  155 mm guns would hardly be exploited by the brigade because other than firing at objects on maps it would lack the organic targeting capability. Interoperability with other armies' artillery fire control systems would incur extra expenses. The brigade would likely not disperse enough for 105 mm ranges to be inadequate because such dispersion would weaken the brigade too much considering its simplified equipment. Thus I assumed 155 mm and MRL support for long range fires to be provided at divisional or corps level, by better-funded allied forces.


  1. This looks really good, Sven. A few extremely minor nit-picks:
    - I would put a small caliber MG with limited ammunition on each lorry. The weight and cost would be negligible and it would give the vehicle a way to respond to unexpected threats. Strange things happen frequently enough in combat that I have troubles leaving any vehicle completely unarmed. But I strongly agree that grenade launchers, auto-cannons, and anti-tank weapons would tempt people to use the vehicles in the wrong way.

    - It is tempting to have some sort of dedicated scout company. No special vehicles or equipment, fewer weapons, more radios.

    - I like the idea of the auto-cannon on the MBT but I suspect the loader is the wrong person to use it (they ought to be busy focusing the main gun) but I do not have a better idea on who should control it.

    1. It costs much personnel to have but one driver per vehicle, to add a gunner to every vehicle would drive up the share of vehicle-bound non-combat troops well past 30% of the whole force.
      I'd rather install smoke grenade dischargers (for a smoke wall 100 m on the left or right) than a gun on supply lorries.

      Dedicated scouts may have higher rate of attrition than others, and once there aren't enough dedicated scouts left you'd only have combat troops who neglected training for scouting to do their job. Furthermore, scouting is more exhausting, and this brigade is meant for weeks, not days.

      I chose the loader because relative to other crew members he's the least busy one. Keep in mind the tank commander could take over the 20 mm just as the 120 mm using his independent sight (or only its interface displaying the RWS camera's picture) whenever the loader is really busy with his other tasks. Same with the gunner; the 20 mm RWS could be aligned with the 120 mm's aim point with a single switch.

    2. I disagree about one driver per vehicle. Having an assistant driver is a huge bonus. He can deal with maps and navigation while the driver focuses on driving. Driving off-road, the second set of eyes is a must. He also makes loading and unloading much much faster. And one person cannot change a truck tire.

      As for the RWS, either loader or commander are a good choice while the vehicle is on the move. In a hull-down position, the driver would be the best.

    3. @Adam:
      That's what one arrives at by looking at the vehicle level.
      A brigade of 5,700 troops has well in excess of 1,000 vehicles, most of them soft non-combat vehicles.
      To add an assistant driver where I wouldn't means to add another 800-1,000 troops to this brigade.
      I'd rather add an infantry battalion instead (opportunity costs!).

      Same for changing a tire: Use the run flat mode till next break, then let the platoon find a 2nd man to assist with this repair. The lorry isn't alone, so why look at it in isolation?

    4. I like your idea of using smoke grenades more than I like my idea of mounting light MG's.

      Your point about the Scouts is also valid.

      The auto-cannon should probably be controlled by the commander.

  2. In principle I very strongly agree.

    There is perhaps some room to improve some of the gear, but its quite good.
    Certainly resolves many of my issues with your ally dependant force.

  3. Sorry, this suggestion won't cut it politically.

    Budget brigades given to higher allied command will simply end up as cannon fodder either in fact or in perception. (see Beaumont-Hamel or Dieppe). If you are going to place your security entirely on an alliance, choose a useful but specialized role. That way you won't be used as an ablative.

    1. I got bad news; in warfare pretty much every combat force is essentially a supposedly civilised organisation for human sacrifice.

      Besides, highest level command would likely be SHAPE, so even great powers' divisions and brigades would be cannon fodder.

    2. "Budget brigades given to higher allied command will simply end up as cannon fodder either in fact or in perception."
      Occupation of Iraq?

      A Polish Field Marshall could order a Czech Brigade to run first through the mine fields surrounding occupied Warsaw, I wouldnt bet on them doing it though...

    3. Don't ignore the reality and the basic premise: This text was about a small alliance member.
      They will be subordinated to foreign superiors, period. It's better to be so as a brigade than as an assortment of battalions unaccustomed to cooperative engagements.

    4. Canada has a lingering resentment about the perceived price we paid as a small alliance member in WWI and WWII (and the lack of respect we got as a junior partner.) It is a major motivator to starve the military and a politician trying orient the military into a shape best suited to die for our allies would be punished at the polls.

  4. Very good ideas, but they look like an "ideal type" rationality, in old Max Weber´s parlance. Czechs will buy MRAP Tatra trucks for their old tracked 120 mm mortars and Caesar-like 155 mm howitzers on Tatra trucks etc. in the end, because Czech DoD is totally corrupt. They will then buy some old, refurbished IFV "produced" by local Excalibur Army company for heavy brigade, because of "connections", you know. And the same factors - not to speak of surplus officers and generals - are crippling relations with Poles (they themselves, by the way, are planning for more or less autarky in arms production - and they try sell their own products to Central European allies).

  5. http://praguemonitor.com/2015/09/30/military-buy-41-tatra-lorries-transport-mortars

  6. Since few people are fully aware of how many vehicles are in a brigade, and how many % of a brigade's troops are drivers, I looked up a quote quickly:
    "To this end, the Army has established a goal to deploy a combat capable Stryker brigade (including its 1,000 plus vehicles and pieces of equipment as well as 3,900 personnel) anywhere in the world within 4 days."

    So this example has in excess of 25% drivers (perfectly normal since full motorization during WW2, that's what I wrote a couple times about before).

    You'd need to add about 500 personnel in this example to have an assistant driver in every lorry. That would make it 1/3 drivers instead of 1/4.

    Thus muster self-discipline and be content with one soldier per logistics lorry!

  7. Hi Sven, first of all many thanks for your work and also for opening the comments again, I have been reading almost since you closed them and I appreciate that it takes quite a bit of time and energy to respond and deal with them. Many thanks again.

    I enjoyed this post particulary and is an idea I grapple with for my own country (Scotland) with the potential that independence would bring for the development of armed forces here and how they would look.

    In this case as we are not on mainland Europe, could you imagine a different force structure? For example swapping out the armoured battalion for another infantry or doing away with the 'army' altogether and taking a Marines or similar option instead? Our focus being more on GIUK gap and EEZ with its oil and other resources.

    As reference Ireland has no MBT, but they are non-NATO and very blue helmety so not sure how useful that is. Also they have no air force to speak of...

    I would enjoy reading your opinion.


    1. I don't see any threat to Scotland in such a case, for the English wouldn't try to annex it any time soon. There's no Stalinist Soviet Union with "World revolution by Red Army" schemes either.

      So at first I'd say set up a paramilitary/police border guard for airport security and check points, coast guard duties, harbours, border checkpoints, customs and possibly even air policing using a few cheap supersonic jets (even ancient Mirage III would be good enough for air policing, but I assume the Swedes would be willing to sell some cheap 1st generation Gripens) and some ground based radars.

      Add a militia combining Swiss, German, Finnish and Austrian doctrines with a large number of reservists due to an attractive voluntary six month basic militia service with optional later refresher exercises.
      The militia would produce soldiers, NCOs and officers, a basis on which a regular military could be founded quickly.

  8. Thanks Sven.

    I agree almost entirely with your assessment, expand the police into a Gendarmerie type organization to deal with airports and EEZ as well as the more demanding armed intenal policing (counter terrorism for example).

    In terms of air policing I think what most makes sense for us in terms of legacy equipment hopefully inherited from the UK, would be the BAE Hawk 200 which can hit around Mach 1.2 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_Hawk_200#Specifications We would almost undoubtedly inherit the current ground based radar systems which I imagine will remain relevant well into the second half of the century.

    The reservist idea is certainly intriguing, I just wonder if enough people could be convinced, or rather incentivized, into such an organization to give it the necessary economy of scale. Given that we would probably face a drain of any real hardcore soldiering types to the British Army.

    Thanks for your time.

  9. I like your idea, but I feel that the suggested vehicles should be complemented by another one (probably with a shape similar to Centauro B1, but without dismounts -something like the future Centauro 2-), with two main missions:
    - Perform missions as a wheeled "medium tank", when speed or weight restrictions make impossible the use of MBTs.
    - Act as a fire support vehicle (I feel that it is necessary artillery with better mobility and that could shoot and scoot faster than the proposed 105 mm mounted on a lorry).

    The main armament should be a turret mounted 120mm mortar coupled with something like an Oerlikon 35/90 autocannon (similar to the combo 100mm+30mm in a BMP-3 turret).

    Number of units: I am not sure, probably 1/4 of the MBT should be replaced by such vehicle -that could also impact in the number of 105 mm SPGs-. I think it should be mixed with tanks and HAPC in the Tank Bn -although it usually will occupy its rear positions-.
    Probably there should be a recovery version of the vehicle (to recover more efficiently wheeled vehicles).

    More things to consider:
    - Such vehicle could fire guided ammunition (in the future up to 16 km, with PERM: Precission Extended Range Mortar).
    - Such vehicles, in a net with a radar and fire control system, could be a real thread for (subsonic) low flying objects.

  10. A thought experiment does help to sharpen one's mind and focus on the things that matter. The force specifics should come out of a clear and logical process with ressources and necessities in mind but all too often there is much lip service instead of proper rational procedure.

    The specific principles behind the brigade structure are sound, one could add more but the important stuff seems to be covered.

    Some general comments:

    1) One driver per support vehicle is of great importance to keep the relation between tooth and tail sane. Armour and smoke dischargers are likely considerably more important but some MGs should be available. Maybe the lead vehicle and possible the last one in a should be manned by two so that you have the eyes and support Adam wants. Possibly even an RWS with thermals for the lead lorry, more to support navigation and driving then fighting.

    Navigational errors and getting stuck due overlooking something or not dismounting can be far more expensive and those few assistants can replace one of the drivers if need be.

    Once again the focus is one the unit and not so much the single vehicle.

    2) Maybe the artillery (or mortar) trucks could also employ the same 8x8 base of the supply lorries. More space and load with the same crew at a small cost or weight, lenght and money. In difficult conditions like soft ground were flotation is important the same howitzer can be moved around with more margin. A higher ammuntion load on the vehicle could save possibly one-two supply vehicles per battery.

    Soft-recoil artillery might be ideal, however it is probably too risky from a cost-benefit point of view.

    3) HQ and other should likely also heavily rely on 8x8 to reduce the number of vehicles and look somewhat similar to the supply troops. For example employed containers shouldn't look too different from the standard ones.

    I have a couple of other ideas but I will leave it there for now...


    1. 1)
      I have a tactics solution to all those 'lorry without a gun' problems, but principles + organisation + some equipment was enough for a single blog text already.
      "6x6" was largely a left-over from an early draft version.I thought of soft-recoil 105 mm for the German brigade a few days before, but not for this one. This one needs a small dispersion without trajectory correction for reasons of economy.

  11. The supply lorries can have MG, but they don't need dedicated assistent drivers. The MP platoon can be expanded to an MP/escort company, and it would provide the brigade with both a response team and manpower to attach to supply runs if necessery.

    Certain armies consider MP as elite infantry, so the name Feldjager might be fitting after all.

  12. @madner: The MP idea is interesting. They already have a variety or roles and should function in the larger scheme of things as a small flexible assets which does relieve other troops from some tasks so that they can focus on their core missions. A classic case of economy of force. One of their classic use was , widely dispersed, traffic control so employing them in some cases as escort can make a lot of sense.

    However in my view it is more about equipping the MP with an enduro motorcycle which could be lifted up on the 8x8. A relative (small?) [url=https://www.palfinger.com/en/emea/products/loadercranes/models]loader crane[/url] behind the cabs of some 8x8 could get that done quickly and also help with the tyre change. In that case the MP would ride in the cab should direct/support/shoot as the situation requires it. In case the truck cub is XL to allow the driver some quick, dry and warm sleep* the RWS solution on the lead armored lorries would be preferred. More then a decade of increasingly broad use must have increased the benefits per euro.

    *Maybe almost too welcome for a wet, cold and hungry MP biker

    I actually wanted to write about a different aspect of the brigade but I will leave it there for now.


  13. @SO:

    1) Agreed. In general in an conventional war tactics should be the answer. Still one RWS lorry per four or better eight might be a worthwhile investment with the one or two support drivers. I would apply a similar approach to RWS to the artillery, HQ and so forth vehicles with a likely different ratio.

    2) Ok on the 6x6 but 8x8 seem to be the better fresh choice for the mentioned reasons. Until soft-recoil guns get developed by somebody else with deeper pockets I don't see it as the smart choice for a very constrained budget.

    i) In general modern technology (electronics, production etc) should have (considerably?) reduced the negatives compared to forty or so years ago. This might be one of those cases when a technical apporach becomes viable after broad underlying technological changes.

    ii) Prices of trajectory correction artillery shells seem to be coming down from below a 10.000 $ IIRC. So this is the second aspect why it may become even attractive for the countries in question in years to come.


  14. A budget tank:

    A S-tank-style tank. Would weigh about 40 tonnes. The gun overhand would be reduced, and the S-tank's 105mm L/60 is the same length as the 120mm L/55.

    The majority of uses of a tank is not firing on the move but rather a direct fire artillery piece against infantry, so this would save much money in electronics, hydraulics, etc. Much of the cost of a tank is in mechanical and electronic components, and the reduced weight would save fuel and allow for longer service lives for automotive components. It would also allow for greater ranges when conducting redeployments by air.

    This obviously does not exclude the need for turreted tanks.

    As a rough estimate, it's probably a $2 million tank, a bargain with modern tank prices.

    1. More like € 5 million a copy, + development costs. € 2 million gives you no more than a bare bones Boxer these days.