It's more complicated than that

The (quite time-consuming) discussions in the comments of the last weeks have pointed something out to me that wasn't obvious (to me). I'm *sometimes* not good at anticipating such things because they're alien to me.

I wanted to use this GIF for a long time, and it makes the text a bit less bitter.

(1) The fascination of symmetry

There's no need to view things in symmetry all the time.
Back in antiquity archers didn't necessarily fight hostile archers more often than other troops. Cavalry didn't necessarily fight cavalry more often than other troops. Spearmen didn't necessarily fight spearmen more often than others.

Modern infantry shouldn't be compared to other modern infantry with a focus on infantry vs. infantry combat. Remember, in conventional warfare infantry gets killed >80% by artillery and mortars! Their main purpose is evidently NOT in shooting at other infantry.

Likewise, tanks won't be understood if one focuses on their ability to defeat other tanks. This kind of thinking has buggered IFVs more than any other category of tanks; they were even equipped with ATGMs at the expense of one dismount seat and at great risk of secondary fires or explosions inside the squad compartment. Later on during the 90's, frontal protection against 30mm AP(FS)DS became a strange focus, even though poor protection against shaped charges was the elephant in the room.

The art of war isn't about clashing same against same nearly as often as it is about being unfair or using rock-paper-scissors mechanics to advantage.

(2) The overemphasis on killing

I tried to convey this back when I wrote about tactical repertoires and functions in warfare, but evidently even among my readers the overemphasis on killing is terribly intact. The vast majority of troops doesn't kill in a year of even in the fiercest of conflicts, but they're still of great use usually. There's so much more that needs be done than mere killing and destruction. The typical military exercise with its ludicrously high attrition rates never teaches this, but almost everything that armies do is not about killing. The killing part is the tip of the iceberg. An army that neglects to pay attention to all those non-killing jobs will be a sucker at the killing part every single time.
Now most of us are not paid to devise the military of the future, but we're citizens who can vote and express opinions, also shape opinions - and we don't serve our society well if we perpetuate the overemphasis on killing.
An infantry company may very well be of extremely great use by overseeing and if need be blocking some forestry roads - this may together with similar such efforts restrict the movement of a mechanised force such that it runs into a trap. Said infantry company may have shot at and disabled some armoured recce vehicle on its route reconnaissance, but nevertheless it would be its presence and ability that shaped the battlefield and constitutes its utility, not the kill count.

It's typically not possible to win a campaign by artful manoeuvring alone, even though this would be great. The second best option is to win/end a campaign by artful tactics that make the advantageous outcome of all major combat events predictable. I think this is what we should strive for; develop forces and if need be use them in a way that achieves the political purpose without resorting to primitive attrition bets. Instead, we should determine outcomes of combat before the major combat occurs (which keeps friendly casualties low), and logically this requires excellence at the activities that are no about killing and destruction.

(3) Clarity of thought

9th grade and higher match classes include theory of sets, logic et cetera among all the formula stuff. Pupils and many parents don't have much respect for this seemingly arcane stuff, but I have grown a deep respect for its importance. Many people simply cannot think logically. Everybody gets carried away sooner or later, and nobody is good at discussions if his or her main motive is plain hostility.
Yet there's also a problem (and this is mostly from observations beyond this blog) with people simply not thinking logically. The conclusions drawn from such fuzzy thinking may be creative, but usually they're plain nonsense.

One example; the topic of an article was whether certain components in food are causing cancer or not. A commenter accused the author of some things I won't repeat here, and his only line of reasoning in support was that in other countries people don't even have enough food.
This was utterly irrelevant, of course. Other countries have other problems, their severity doesn't mean that we shouldn't address our smaller problems. No doubt his employer ceasing to pay him is not nearly as bad as people in Afghanistan dying to mines and duds, but I'm sure the commenter wouldn't feel that this was a good reason not to be bothered about the lack of pay.

Other examples are the very common 'misunderstandings' where comments assert that I am proposing or denying things when I did nothing of the sort. I clearly don't like to discuss against wild and unfounded interpretations of what I wrote for real. Feel free to pin me on whatever I wrote - no doubt sooner or later you can find some inconsistency, lacking evidence or falsifying evidence. There should be no need for wild (if not hostile) interpretations.

I look around the internet, I read newspapers, I listen to political discussions on TV (rarely) and what I see is a world full of people with flawed logic. Maybe I sound a bit Vulcanian here, but I think it's overdue that everyone begins to try hard to check his or her own writings for logical inconsistencies.



  1. 4) You have a specific political agenda and rate everything according to it - which sometimes lead you to logical fallacies. Moreover it seems to me sometimes that your blog is in part a echochamber, and that sometimes reinforces you in your oppinion and make you think your logic is superior to everyones else.

    But in the short place of a comment and with the hindrance and the difficulties of this kind of written communication it is extremly difficult to "win" logical arguments against you, which is even not my target - actually it is more for understanding and learning for me.

  2. You can argue about agendas as much as you like, I have an issue with the way Sven portrays the Kosovo war. False photos were used by the government to justify the intervention, but now we know that in fact the atrocities were real. So one can't say the public was really mislead.

    However, you can't argue about facts. There is a very unhealthy fascination with special forces, super special equipment and even more special ammunition that paints a picture of war that is clean, easy and without any friendly casualties. The picture is painted by the recruitment offices and the military arms complex, both have very real reasons to do so.

    The truth is, the next real war will happen sooner or latter. And then it might turn out that spending months to teach infantry to do HALO insertions, knife fighting, hatchet throwing, back flipping and using foreign equipment is a skill set that doesn't really help them as much as camouflaging they position and creating secondary fighting positions while it extends the training a tiny bit.

    If you have a finite amount of resources, then get the most out of them. Going for the highest quality, most expensive solution on everything is simply ignoring the finite part of the equation.

    1. The mass graves found in Kosovo were consistent with the ordinary consequences of a small insurgency and the refugees were consistent with ordinary war refugee movements, falling short of systematic ethnic cleansing - unlike the NATO-tolerated ethnic cleansing in the Krajina '95.

      The problem about the Kosovo War is that we were lied to and the vast majority of the people still don't know it - they don't draw the appropriate conclusions for the next time we get lied to.

    2. Krajina 95 proves that you can ethnicly cleanse an area without getting your hands dirty. The casulties on both civilians and military Serb units were small, and the Croatian didn't do much. It was fear.

      The Jugoslavian goal in Kosovo was ethnic cleansing, the police and army leadership was tried and found guilty on those counts.
      While no situation is black and white, it was very close to white.

      There is never a reason to have civilian mass graves when fighting insurgents.

  3. madner:

    I agree with lastdingo, that a unified infantry would be much better than special forces and do not claim we need more SF Troops. But there is a wide range of qualification between SF and reserve infantry with 6 months training that was years ago. And a unified infantry should be better qualified, especially because it should not fight primarly other infantry in a conventional war. Especially because it has other tasks in a conventional war it need to be better qualified.

    And there is more than conventinoal defence. And here comes the political agenda. IMO is nothing false in offensive action, expenditionary warfare and intervention. And because of that completly different political agenda of cause the skills of the infantry must be different from what is perhaps sufficent in your vision.

    And it is not about the highest quality, it is about a good enough quality but this is forceful much more than 6 month training some years ago.

    The reason why i agree with last dingo about a unified infantry and to not inflate the SF at the cost the infantry is for example exact because of that reason: to have a better overall quality in the infantry. Because inflated SF reduce the quality of the rest.

    You need this quality in my experience especially in modern conventional warfare and especially because fighting other infantry is not so common / not important but to do other things.

    And at the same moment that higher quality is very useful in unconventional warfare / COIN and so on.

    Masses of reserve infantry would be primarly a problem to sustain them, to coordinate them, even to feed them and neither their skills nor their fighting power would be sufficent. Your example of WW2 Divisions which were formed from the scratch within months conceals what was the result of this: very high losses and unneccesary failures.

    The next peer / conventional war would be moreover much faster than greater wars several decades ago because one side would be crippeld very fast and would loose their ability to fight further. IMO you should not overestimate the experiences of wars of the past. Such a overestimation was often in military history a primary reason for disaster.

    Making yesterday perfect does not win the wars of tomorrow.

  4. Leave the political question aside. Light infantry is very expensive in terms of training as you buy additional capabilities by training time, stricter requirements and fancy equipment.

    They are like Porsches, very fine, very shinny and very capable units. However for the prize of one you can get 10 VW Golfs. And for the daily commute the Golf might be superior as it has a lower logistic footprint.

    To justify the light infantry, you need terrain they excel at and can show off they strengths and pay off. When the battlefield was close to the Alps, it made sense to have them. Now they are great units for Afganistan, Iraq etc... but for a peer war you are much better off with cheaper alternatives.

    Medium infantry that is cheaply motorized from civilian stocks (trucks and technicals) and trained to understand what it can and can't do can shape the battlefield better then the light infantry.

    The logistic footprint of such an unit, that is not engaged in heavy combat is very small. On the other hand, the gold plated force needs to use gold plated units for the mundane tasks.

  5. The political question is of the utmost importance. And light infantry is not very expensive in comparison to other troops. You need to pay the same to a soldier, completley indifferent if he has a logistic job or is light infantry. Same rank, same amount of pay.

    Today, only few troops are combat troops. Why is this so? Because of the many tanks, mechanised troops and the high technology. Light infantry do not need so much support troops.

    More light infantry means fewer support troops (and both cost the same) so have more combat troops for your money. Better qualified light infantry does of cause cost more than 6 month reserve troops. I do not write about gold plated units - that is only your expression. I write about better qualified professional LI, NOT special forces. The equipment is not that expensive as last dingo explained.

    And the pay is the same to other soldiers, for example simple logistic troops. Fewer heavy / mechanises troops and more light infantry means then: more combat troops that (your own words) excel in specific terrain, and are great units (your own words) in Afgh, Iraq and so on.

    But such terrain is also plenty in eastern europe. Swamps, Mountains, Big Citys, everywhere possiblities for professional light infantry which could usw such terrain much better and to better results than 6 month trained reserves.

    The logistc footprint of elite light infantry is also very small. And (political agenda) if you want ocupation, coin and so on, you need such troops in every case.

    Porsches are the tanks / mechanised units. Your reserve infantry are vw golfs, i agree with this picture. But i do not propose a porsche. My picture of professional light infantry is more that of an Land Rover.

    1. My "6 month infantry" proposal is more than only about providing infantry. It's a scheme to provide a large recruiting pool for the volunteer force (the Bundeswehr was used to recruit volunteers from conscripts and never adapted well to an all-volunteer structure) AND a scheme to have a 6+ month boost in a two-year arms race as they happened prior to both world wars. So in case of such arms races a majority of the armed forces would be better by 6-12 months of training than without the scheme.
      You cannot launch a basic training for hundreds of thousands of men at the same time without crippling the active force by withdrawal of NCOs, after all. Finally, it's a scheme to make 'rear' units more capable of self-defence, since the six month infantry training acting as replacement for a three-month basic training would lead to an "everyman a rifleman" force over time.

      Besides, I don't think that light infantry would be decisive in a European high end warfare by its actions. Infantrymen are rather targets than causing much attrition themselves. Their only possibly decisive effects would be in denial of terrain to invaders, which may buy time for arrival of reinforcements (~Bastogne '44 example applied to ) and would shape the battlefield in our favour (~Uhle-Wettler's idea of the infantry's role).
      Seriously, regular military infantry would not be the main combat forces in conventional European warfare:

      artillery - kills (and blinds)
      tanks/mechanised forces - manoeuvre
      infantry - denies terrain (relatively static)

      There's little reason to insist on pushing the lethality of infantry high up. We better spend on bigger artillery ammunition stocks than that.

      Same goes for infantry survival to some extent - artillery and mortar smoke ammunition stocks may help more than years of infantry training!

  6. Your logic is right, according to your political agenda. But i believe, that further COIN, Occupation, Hybrid Warfare, Expenditionary Warfare are much more likely to happen than a high end war in eastern europe.

    Moreover modern technoogy could offer even light infantry a all foot mobile extreme high firepower. In combination with stealth (infantry can use stealth more than any other type of troop) and a developement of all infantry into a dual use as recon troops (to use them secundary as JFST / LRRP) i am convinced that even in conventional warfare such professional light infantry could excel in many tasks - not only in denying terrain.

    I agree totally with your idea to create a large recruting pool through reserves. But the reality today is: we have professional armies and no conscription any more. And you will not be able to change this - the societies are not longer accepting conscription. A majority of young people dislike the military especially in germany. You cannot act against the culture and the society as you wish.

    Moreover you forget in my oppinion the political economy costs (volkswirtschaftliche Kosten). If you conscript young men, the costs are not only for equipment, the infrastructure, the trainers and so and the 6 months to 1 year service. You need to consider the loss of working power, the time that is consumed here, the political economy costs. Which are not low even in 6 months.

    But most important: the society as a hole does not share your views. They majority is hostile to conscription, and especially in germany hostile to the military as a whole.

    So all you write about defence and conscription is all nice and good, but it is unrealistic to realize it because you cannot act politically as you wish. The population will not allow your ideas to become reality.

    So you must work with what can be done in reality and accept what is. The things are what they are and not what they should be.

    1. You misunderstood me. I am strictly against unfree labour a.k.a. conscription:


      The "six months plus" model is about volunteers, while avoiding the "weekend warrior" aspect of the U.S. national guard (which wouldn't be accepted in Germany).

      Today's one year volunteers are used to complement the volunteer force, whereas my "six months plus" model would be separated from the active force and oriented solely at generating reserves (as well as serving as basic training and recruitment pool for the active force).

  7. Then i have to apologize that i missunderstood you in this important point.

    But i am convinced, that in germany and many other western european countries you will not find sufficent volunteers for such a force. The Bundeswehr has even today a gigantic recruting problem and many people are hostile to the military or any kind of military violence.

    I am convinced that you will not be able to build a large reserve / large recruiting pool in germany / western europe in this way.

    But some eastern european countries are going this way today and are realizing your concept here and now. They seperated such infantry forces from the active force and call them milita or they integrated private paramilitary forces or military sport groups into the structures of the military. Examples are Poland or the Baltics. But this militas are often more paramilitary vigilants than regular reserve infantry, although they are an excellent recruiting pool for the active forces and are supported heavily by the armies of this countries with equipment and training.

    But this goes all the way to the weekend warrior concept which did not fit in germany and other western european countries as you wrote by yourself.

    1. There's evidence to the contrary: To date there are about 10,000 one year volunteers.

      Six months would likely attract even more, but even with only 10k and an average duration in reserves of 10 years we would sustain a reserve pool of 100k (compared to 177k active strength) with this short-serving personnel alone.
      Add the retired multi-year volunteers reserve pool and an increase in volunteers for six months instead of one year and reserves would be large enough to double the armed services in a week. Air force and navy have little use for reserves (the air force could use them as security personnel and little more), so the army would grow by more than 100%.

      My idea is that school graduates join the military for six months to earn enough money to buy their first (used) car and such (probably also 'free' car driving training), before they begin university or professional training. Many of them have to wait six months anyway for an open slot, and do nothing.

  8. For example:


  9. "Modern infantry shouldn't be compared to other modern infantry with a focus on infantry vs. infantry combat. Remember, in conventional warfare infantry gets killed >80% by artillery and mortars! Their main purpose is evidently NOT in shooting at other infantry."

    Then what is the "main purpose" of infantry? Shouldn't infantry be armed with little else besides anti-tank weapons and handguns if their anti-personnel direct fire weapons like rifles don't matter? Clearly I am missing something.

    1. Infantry can also
      - observe terrain
      - erect obstacles
      - remove obstacles
      - take prisoners of war
      - interrogate prisoners of war
      - guard prisoners of war
      - provide security for non-combat elements
      - provide security for tanks
      - act as forward observers at the very least for mortar fires
      - confirm non-presence of enemies in a location
      - create deceptions
      - investigate if bridges or other objects are rigged with explosives
      - interact with civilians
      - perform medical evacuation
      - perform demolition tasks that don't require large amounts of explosives
      - shoot up low-flying helicopters
      and of course defend against armoured vehicles (especially the non-MBT AFVs)

      "observe terrain" was the most important one listed. Infantry controls terrain. Tanks can advance through it and shoot up targets, but they are at high risk in surveillance missions and too few for surveillance of terrain with short lines of sight.
      A well-executed campaign should lead to much more POW than KIA, so taking and handling POWs is also very important.

    2. Great reply, thanks. Although, that sounds a lot like combat engineers. Are combat engineers and normal infantry not as greatly different as I have thought?

    3. Engineers are specialists, and specialists aren't always around. Infantrymen should be generalists, and plenty. Sadly, peacetime nonsense gnaws away at both qualities.

      There are a few things they can do that infantry cannot do, but I did not list those.