Combat in isolation

This time I offer you an example of what my drats typically look like if they stubbornly refuse progress after months. The following text was begun with one idea in mind, then I wandered off ... and never developed a proper central theme from title to conclusion. It's a mere collection of simple thoughts about one angle. I'm tired to have it in the list of drafts, so here it is. It's lesser quality writing compared to a text of the same size that I would be content with.

Imagine a battlefield that's saturated with electronic countermeasures (ECM): Radio communication is available only when tolerated by the opposition for the purpose of locating the emitter.

How would land warfare look like under such conditions?

I suppose the first reaction would be to employ couriers (in lightweight helicopter, on motorcycle, horse or foot) to issue orders and reports, but this, too, would be unreliable, often observable - and with huge delays compared to radio calls.

Difficult communication over distances
Another reaction would be to use light signals, but flashlight morse comm has been found impractical on the battlefield even before radio sets were available down to individual platoons.*

Pyrotechnical signals have a very small 'bandwidth', even if you assume that subordinates had code sheets for a sequence of coloured star shell signals with dozens or even hundreds of possible meanings. You cannot really call for a specific type of fires on a specific map coordinate with signals from a flare gun.

(There are theoretical options for light-based communication with a decent bandwidth, such as a drone hovering and emitting a binary code with a laser, with the beam widened to cover a defined range of directions where receivers are expected to be. No such thing is in service or available off the shelf so far - AFAIK.)

Ground combat itself would need to incorporate indirect fire support at a low level such as company mortars if not platoon mortars (though today many Western armies have no mortars below battalion level). Radio calls for support fires wouldn't work, after all.

Combat units would either need to be able to fight against any threat or even better to elude those threats they cannot face in isolation.

On the bigger picture I suppose that everything would become somewhat slower (more delayed), though subordinates' initiative and at least local aggressive and dashing actions would be prized highly (at least when they succeed). On the other end of the spectrum deliberate actions would look quite as in textbooks, with many hours of preparations prior to execution.
Some command and staff cultures would barely function much of the time, others would collapse too often and too easily unless facing their own.

The reaction to offensive actions would be clumsy if existent at all, which would allow for large raids (movement of task forces hundreds of kilometres through 'hostile' terrain), overrunning support troops, combat troops in bivouac, army aviation units if not air force airfields, supply dumps, blowing up infrastructure and cutting landlines and powerlines.

The troops would need a very different mindset - both combat and support troops. Combat troops would need to think and solve problems at a low level (platoon or company) instead of expecting others (fire support, air force) to solve their problems.
Support troops would need the cohesion and morale to resist rumours plus the attention and resolve to maintain 24/7 360° security and basic self-defence (or evasion) readiness at least against weak threats.

The 'average' soldier would be on a battlefield that doesn't merely look "empty", but he would also feel very, very isolated. Noises of explosions and moving vehicles as well as dust and smoke clouds on the horizon would be the most the troops could sense past their own (small) unit. There would be no radio calls, hardly any news about other units' actions. The officers and couriers who would know a little more would likely not be able to dispel this feeling of isolation and uncertainty. Hostile forces could appear suddenly for no distant friendly forces radio a warning before, and everybody would be strained by the ever-present possibility.

On the other hand audacious and trusted officers could exploit all these factors by daring and aggressive manoeuvres with a compact force that employs a very close recce and security screen.


*: Combat from the era before radio sets were available to small units is a poor guide for how it would be done today because of full motorisation and much higher lethality of all arms.


  1. No worries our fearless leader Trump has the answer to all. Just enter codes for a limited nuclear exchange, no soldiers needed just missiles.

    Sorry little sarcasm their but thanks for the article found it interesting and enjoyable to read.

  2. The problem with ECM is that it is not as effective as you might believe, at the same time it is to effective to ignore.

    Modern digital radios are much more resilient than the previous generation of radios.

    One quite secure way to communicate is to use directed signals like the UHF land grid of the 90-ties. The future may look like something like an ASEA radar.

    Future artillery doctrine should take into account the necessity to combating enemy EW, as wel as enemy radars.

    1. It was a scenario, not an expectation.
      Directional radio depends on knowing the vector to the communications partner and increases signal strength and receiving antenna gain. So essentially it is like emitting much more power.
      Jammers can use directional antennas as well (a recent example are the hand-held jammers against R/C drones). The Austrian military publishing house has published (years ago) a small and cheap, but very nice overview book on EW:
      ISBN 3-901183-27-2

    2. Good old cable has you covered. Short range comms and fire support can arranged with cable connections and light mortar platoon. Longer distances (5+km) take longer time to build and artillery would be of little use without extensive preparations. Artillery might revert direct fire role in that situation.