It's the voids, stupid!

I'd like to summarise what I wrote about skirmishing, delay, pursuit, force densities, shaping ops, armoured recce and so on over the course of the years:*

The best practice in future conventional (government vs. government, gloves off) land warfare will be to seek superiority in the voids between the few concentrations of forces.

There will be battalion battlegroups and (small) brigades that don't disperse much and can be treated as classic manoeuvre elements. Yet the spacing between them will be dozens of kilometres (maybe 100+ km in some scenarios, see Ukraine), and what happens in these "voids" is what decides the campaign. For it's what decides about ammunition supply for the manoeuvre elements, decides about their practical mobility (how impeded it is), deters them from advancing or not, blinds or enlightens their commanders and potentially denies army aviation operations.

The major manoeuvre elements (battlegroups, brigades) could execute their classic manoeuvres well if and only if the events in the voids permit it. Clashes between brigades would have a predetermined result because the shaping ops that happened in the voids delivered the real decision. The few classic battle-like clashes of massed forces would shatter already-doomed forces that didn't escape in time, akin to the elimination of pockets in WW2.

The void spaces would be devoid of united and massed forces larger than companies, but those independently-manoeuvering armoured-recce and long range scout-like forces in platoon and company or even only squad (LRS) size would dominate the voids, supported by long-range assets (artillery, electronic long-range surveillance and nighttime helo medevac mostly).
Their campaign - the scouting, skirmishing and observation campaign detached from larger forces - would be the decisive one. The army that's superior in this facet of land warfare would be as dominant as back in WW2 the armies that better mastered rapid operations with tank-heavy formations.
The better main battle tank may thus be of little consequence compared to the better armoured recce car and the better ability to call in responsive long-range artillery fires.

That's the real departure from classic land warfare as Carl von Clausewitz  and other thinkers wrote about: They saw the decision in what mobile concentrations of great power would do, whereas in the future when a single sniper pair may doom a tank battalion with a radio call or two such concentrations of power should merely seal a deal that was already negotiated by the skirmishing forces.

Modern field manuals still follow the orthodox, classic patterns. They're either about the (small) unit level with little consideration for what their actions cause in the greater picture or they are about how to commit the force concentrations. They're not about (small) units shaping the battlefield with merely over-the-horizon support from force concentrations. The closest thing to this are probably the Jagdkampf tactic and Raumverteidigung doctrines. I'd rather emphasize this in the context of armoured reconnaissance forces, for well-armed combat-capable (instead of observation-focused) armoured recce is the closest to the needed skirmisher force for the voids.

The brigades meanwhile would be 'fleets in being' that contribute to the deterrence of opposing forces advances and serve as long-range support nodes to the skirmishers until committed to breaking an opposing peer formation (preferably in a pincer manoeuvre). They wouldn't need so much "Panzer" troops dash, but rather patience and long range arty. The highest demands would not be placed on the leaders of tank forces, but on the skirmishing armoured recce platoon and company leaders. That's what the 'best and brightest' officers should be assigned to. Meanwhile, nations with a rather cumbersome mechanised forces culture would merely need to improve on their evasion skills in order to avoid decisive engagements of their brigades until the shaping ops provided the right setting.

Nothing of this would prevent that actual generals would send actual brigades to clash with opposing brigades ASAP in a future conflict. Just as insights in the role of firepower didn't prevent the French army's suicidal offensive tactics in 1914, after all. I'm merely pointing out what I think will be best practices. It's not a prediction of actual future campaigns.


*: I'm too lazy to look up all the links. Simply click on the "Military theory" tag on the left if you want to look the stuff up.


  1. The electronics revolution continues to upset classic skirmishing. Drones and digital signal processing means that it isn't your grandfathers scout car doing the recce grunt work.

    1. Look, I have a bad feeling with my implicit assumption that vehicle-mounted radars are going to be reliable enough over long ranges for what I described.
      To trust radio links with drones in such a scenario is sci fi at this point, same as with autonomous recce drones unless we#re talking about the likes of CL-289.

  2. I do wonder how to fill the voids though.
    Local Militia can do it, the British did it in the Boer wars, with a huge expenditure of resources.

    Cant think of a conventional military force structure that could manage it though, beyond managing a mobile perimeter around a striking force.

    1. So essentially you write that you can't imagine how to do it in a comment on a text in which I wrote about how to do it?

  3. ...Interesting! As most of the posts I've read here... I'm a relatively recent reader of this blog, so sorry if I missed answers to some of my following questions in some other posts...
    What would those independently operating armored recce companies and platoons look like in terms of composition and equipment? From some of your other posts I gather not all the armored vehicles envisioned are available - at least not in the Bundeswehr...
    Do you see the armored recce companies organized into battalions of the larger manoeuvre elements / small brigades to fill the void around said manoeuvre element or as part of other (independent?) units that are more geographically oriented? What would those look like?
    ...and what about artillery and drones - own and opposing?
    So many questions, I know! Too much to answer all in a response here, but its interesting stuff. I think you're on to something...

    1. The skirmishers would include scouting platoons (capable of mounted combat) with a squad-sized dismount element (for searching buildings, going to far side of a patch of woodland, climbing onto high points for overview etc.) would be the eyes and muscle.

      Some hiding (larger) support platoons would use passive electronic recce, provide some medical and supply support, provide minimal indirect fire support (single 120 mm mortar or 105 mm howitzer), have higher bandwidth SatCom, have a C4 vehicle and some longer-ranged air defence to deny airspace up to 20,000 ft minimum.

  4. I am not sure that the voids and how to fill them should be the focus for the future. For me, that idea for Armies is, for Sea Forces, like the US Navy doctrine of "Distributed Lethality" (some insights about it in http://cimsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Distributed-Lethality-2016.pdf ). And I am quite sure that to split a Task Force in smaller groups of vessels just makes harder for the enemy to detect those vessels... but facilitates their destruction -probably by air forces, which are easier to concentrate in a point for short time- once detected (and identified).

    So I think that, in any case, if you want skirmishers, they should focus on two main capabilities:

    First of them, of course, will be about air denial, specially against small UAVs -low flying machines in general- (so: some of the skirmisher vehicles sould have AESA radar (they also can act as data transmissors) + "stealthy" medium range missiles (you don't want to scream your position when firing). Other vehicles should operate long range direct fire guns with high angle of fire -which coud act as "medium tanks" /armoured recce vehicle- and another vehicles with a 120 mm mortar -in a turret- should have an autocannon coaxial with the mortar -to have some anti-air capabilities-).
    NOTE: Probably a CV9040 aav could be the "medium tank"/recce vehicle for skirmishers, but I think that better protection and a 57 or 76 mm gun should be preferable (for range and HE effects against surface threats).

    The second focus for those skirmishers will be to shape the combat terrain: they will need something like a BPz3 "Büffel" -but in "medium" weight- and be able to mine/de-mine a zone ASAP.

    The problem with so many different vehicles (with combined capabilities) at company level will be the main problem in all wars: logistics to support them. Besides this, at battalion/brigade level, there should be some air support to those skirmishers. Light helicopters probably should be wellcome; but I think that we should also think in a future "small" UCAV (similar to a CL-289, but also with a HMG/autocannon) to shot down enemy helicopters/"slow" UAVs and to do the fast recon role that now offers those CL-289.

    1. War at land has been very different from war at sea at all times. There's no reason to believe that modern naval theory should resemble modern land warfare theory.

      About the armament; there are reasons why I wrote about these:
      The combination could fit on both a 14,.5 mm-proofed 6x6 and a MBT-like protected medium weight tracked family vehicle.

    2. I will bet for a 75-76 mm gun in the recce vehicle, combined with missiles with top-attack capability, so it can threat the surface forces with fires from different angles (both the gun and the missiles should be also capable to attack air targets).

      I think that skirmishers will need mobility to sprint from one cover to the next, turn the chassis without changing their location -to point it at the next cover- and be able to do precisse fire while moving. For me that means tracks (that should be easily repaired/changed if they are damaged). I think that the vehicles should be of medium weight, to get some serious armor in order to try to resist splinters from artillery and direct fire -at least in the frontal arc- from the enemy skirmishers.

      Wheels and "poor" protection: probably better suited for future "small" unmmaned ground vehicles (probably they should be transported over the roof of the APCs, to act as unmanned turrets while the UGV recharges its batteries).

    3. A DP missile would use a shaped charge, which is more susceptible to (active, reactive and deep passive defences) defences than KE.

      Tracked vehicles for the role would be very combat-oriented. 6x6 would allow for no treacherous traces on paved roads, few treacherous traces offroad and roughly twice the driving range of a tracked vehicle.
      The farther forward the skirmishers are the less combat-oriented and the more stealth- and range-oriented they need to be.