How to: Build an army from scratch

Let's pretend there's a new country, luckily not born from a war of independence, but in a peaceful secession. A policy for security against external threats has to be developed and implemented.

The first question is thus "Shall there be a military?
This is no trivial question. Some countries such as Costa Rica and Iceland have no military, and many tiny countries (San Marino, Andorra et cetera) couldn't even have a meaningful one if they wanted it. To be unarmed and small might compel other countries to consider an aggression against your country as an even more despicable act, with probably greater responses on their part.

The choice may be in favour of having a military, and most likely there would not be enough fully trained soldiers available to set it up right away. The new nation could set up an entire tank army if it wished, of course - but it would exist little more than on paper only.

Thus here's a quick guide how to grow an army quickly:*

The first volunteers would be 'inherited' officers and non-commissioned officers who volunteered for a set quantity of years, possibly including foreign mercenaries. At first, many administrative tasks would be handled by civilians (to not waste any of the scarce experienced soldiers in non-training roles).

Independent militia battalions proportional in quantity to the available volunteers** would be set up under command of a single HQ.

It takes approximately six months to set up the skeletons of these independent battalions, purchase (mail order if need be) basic equipment, prepare provisional barracks, choose shooting ranges, write (or translate) some basic field manuals and recruit additional volunteers for a six month basic service. I  once compiled a list of field manuals that would be needed for such a militia force, and came up with approximately two dozen necessary field manuals.*** These could be generated by a few dozen officers and NCOs within two years, taking inspiration from foreign field manuals.

The recruits would receive a good pay - enough to afford the first (used) car owned by the 18-20 y.o. (wo)man. This is an important influence on the public opinion about the military. The police departments could help procuring and testing some of the equipment during this early phase.

During the second six months cycle these fresh recruits would undergo basic training (four months), enjoy a brief vacation and finally unit-level exercises for a few weeks. They would be screened for promising candidates, which would then be approached and asked to volunteer for six more months.

During the third six months cycle additional fresh recruits would be trained, and so on. The volunteers who extended their service join a NCO course (with a set percentage passing) and those who passed would be asked to sign up for another six months - for the next cycle, during which they would serve as squad leader / trainers themselves.

Finally, some of these new junior NCOs would prove promising and be approached for a longer-term volunteer service (years, with possible promotion to a senior NCO or officer course).****

This way the country would create a militia that could not be destroyed with firepower or manoeuvre quickly, and would rather turn towards guerilla warfare than surrender or self-disband. Within approximately five years there would be enough newly-trained militiamen to run the militia almost without veteran soldiers (battalion command and higher posts should be reserved for more experienced officers at this point).

This frees up the relatively few long-time soldiers to create regular army infantry battalions with militia-trained volunteers. These battalions could later be joined and developed into simple manoeuvre brigades, including (for the first time) heavy weapons such as artillery and armoured vehicles.
Alternatively, one should set up one or two brigades from the start if there are enough experienced soldiers available right away. This is unlikely, since a rapid build-up requires a greater training effort in the early years than to sustain the force does a decade later. A rapid build-up of 'regular' brigades might be forced by political considerations, of course.
This regular army could still use the militia as the training establishment, but advanced 'branch'-specific training and senior officer training would be done in regular army schools, based on regular army doctrine.
Additional brigades could be creates by splitting each one into two brigades and filling it up with replacements.
Finally, the officer corps and technical troops would have developed far enough to create a division or corps and specialised support units within the first decade.

I suppose it should be feasible to grow from a thousand initial soldiers into 100,000 personnel-strong ground forces (mobilised strength far greater) with a small regular army corps and dozens of independent militia battalions in approximately 10 to 15 years if the population responds favourably and produces enough volunteers given the incentives. A country with a small population could stop the expansion much earlier, of course.

At that point further growth in quality would be difficult to achieve unless these now respectable army and militia troops engaged in scripted and free-play exercises with and against foreign forces, always asking for pitiless feedback and trying to learn as much as possible. Most of the best practices identified during these exercises would be joined into a coherent national doctrine and inferior original practices would be eliminated without remorse.
This is more important for avoiding being a paper tiger than is the purchase of prestigious weapon systems and expensive munitions.

A new country should under no circumstances accept a training mission from the usual suspects. Most countries that provide military trainers to others are utterly incompetent at training a new army, particularly from a culture alien to them or in a much poorer country. They lack self-awareness about their near-perfect incompetence, and may thus still offer such a training mission in order to gain influence and grow intelligence service connections, ultimately compromising the new country's security.

A militia-heavy military would provide greater deterrence against a violent attempt at reunification than a mostly regular army whose brigades would more likely than not be outnumbered anyway. Newly independent countries could seek membership in an alliance or a guarantee of sovereignty to blster their national security.

An alternative approach for a country that's not really feeling threatened, but wants to retain a basic ability to raise a military force quick (in case there's a civil war in a neighbouring country or similar challenge) was described in 2011: 2011-9 On Third World militaries This one was about having a paramilitary as the country's sole enforcer agency, designed to inhibit corruption as much as possible.

I wish all people who (re)gained independence and freedom all the best. Hopefully, they didn't so after a terrible secession war, for a country born with such pains often turns into a dictatorship if not tyranny.


*: The original inspiration was me looking t the recreation of the West German army in the 1950's and early 1960's, which was done rather poorly. We went straight for a rebirth of tank divisions and didn't have first rate divisions till the mid-1960's as a consequence.
**: Or equally well-paid conscripts.
***: I assumed that a field manual for the tactical employment of a heavy weapons team would include the technical description for the heavy weapon and its munition and also the training guidelines.
****: Some countries, such as Germany, found it reasonable to demand a minimum age (24 years, for example) for officer rank (for reasons of maturity and experience). Others (Commonwealth and U.S.) see no problem with having extremely young officers with less than two years of military experience. A new country could pick between these approaches.


  1. "The original inspiration was me looking t the recreation of the West German army in the 1950's and early 1960's, which was done rather poorly. We went straight for a rebirth of tank divisions and didn't have first rate divisions till the mid-1960's as a consequence."

    In 1955 Germany had still very experienced officers and NCOs and the technological changes were - in contrast to jet fighters - not that large in case of tanks. To go straight to tank divisions was the lesser of two evils IMHO.

    Hint: The Lehrübung that heavily influenced the creation of NATO tank brigades was performed in 1958 in Munster.

    1. The readiness of the mechanised forces was still abysmal in the early 1960's due to inexperienced company and battalion COs, inexperienced senior NCOs, spare parts shortages and too hastily purchased or outdated equipment. The WW2 veterans were in large part not really physically or psychologically fit for modern warfare any more by 1960.

  2. "...spare parts shortages and too hastily purchased or outdated equipment."

    However, each of the two very influential Lehrübungen (1935, 1958) was performed with outdated equiopment, that is obviously not the point. :-)

    "The readiness of the mechanised forces was still abysmal in the early 1960's due to inexperienced company and battalion COs, inexperienced senior NCOs"

    "he WW2 veterans were in large part not really physically or psychologically fit for modern warfare any more by 1960."

    Sometimes it is more about perception, esp. on the sides of Germany's new allies. That some of your arguments are correct in retroperspective is undisputed, however, what were the comtempory assumptions and working models?


    1. What matters is the deterrence value. The Russians knew in the early 60's that the German corps sectors were plagued like that. The other NATO corps sectors in Central Europe had their own problems, but my point is to avoid a predictable and preventable problems of a too ambitious move from no army to sophisticated army.

      BTW, I think you overrate the (highly unrealistic) LV 58. The theoretical work done before reduced it to a kind of graduation ceremony, and the NATO allies had plenty theoretical work and even wartime experiences (including the RCTs of the U.S.Army '44-'45) to draw from.

  3. Do you have more details on the list of field manuals?

    1. individual manual, NCO and squad leadership, senior NCO and platoon leadership, officer and unit leadership, battalion organisation and tactics, 3 heavy weapons tech+tactics manuals, explosives, signalling + EW + messengers, 4 vehicle manuals, 2 threat manuals, personnel affairs, resupply affairs, medical stuff, MP + justice + misconduct reporting are 21 manuals that I once thought of as suitable for a militia battalion.

    2. Have your ideas changed on this? Also, why specifically three heavy weapons four vehicles and two threats?

    3. It was a hypothetical militia force, thus only light equipment. The militia would provide security (airbases, bridges, depots...) first, stay behind and become recce & guerilla once "behind enemy lines".

      So the three heavy weapons were IIRC 106 mm recoilless gun, 120 mm mortar and 20 mm autocannon.
      The vehicles were the then very common beetle car, VW transporter + a small 4x4 for the direct fire heavy weapons (M151) and IIRC also the Unimog 1.5/2-ton 4x4.
      Threats were IIRC air power and WP armies.

      I have a fascination with how to do things with minimum effort, so simplified approaches are fascinating to me. You cannot do much with such a militia, though. It would rather be complementary.