Ultralightweight infantry - a theoretical experiment

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I argue in favour of agile infantry that break contact 2-4 minutes after being detected in order to avoid getting caught by aimed indirect fires (mortar, howitzers). (There's a link to related previous articles at the bottom.)

The background to this is that 60-95% of military personnel killed in 'high end' ("peer") warfare between well-equipped ground forces gets killed by indirect fires (artillery and mortars). Air attack, small arms, mines, AFV fires, hand grenades, anti-tank munitions and other causes of death are usually killing much less than artillery and mortars. This is very different in the quasi wars of occupation since 2002 where the opposing forces had few mortars and almost no artillery capabilities. Combat troops suffer a bit more from direct fire weapons than do non-combat troops, but indirect fires are their #1 killer in such wars as well.

Artillery even messes up main battle tanks if they get caught in the fires, so to up-armour infantry is simply no sufficient approach for their survivability against indirect fires. Some fragmentation-proofing can help a lot, but rather against weak and few fragments.

The way to survive artillery and mortar fires is to no be where they unfold their effect. Some opposing forces cannot call for such fires, some call fruitlessly, some get fire support after 10...15 minutes and the best armies can at least at times process a call for support so quickly that effects sometimes take place 2...4 minutes after the call for fires began.

Infantry should move in small groups to exploit what cover and concealment micro-terrain offers, they should stay in contact through (intra-squad) radios, and the teams should know about and support each other. Any one group of hostile infantry should be caught in a crossfire, and new teams should appear to continue the firefight while the previously engaged ones break contact and relocate to avoid getting shelled. (Another method to avoid getting shelled is to 'hug' the opposing force, getting so close that they could be caught by their own supporting fires. This is a troublesome approach because it's more difficult to break contact up close, the own teams risk entering a crossfire themselves and the hostile forces could relocate themselves in time to avoid their own support fires.)

So in the end my view of infantry in firefights outside of urban areas is that they need to break contact (if need be deploy smoke) and move a lot, often, rapidly and even while crouched.
This cannot be done with infantry that's fighting against the force of gravity of 30-40 kg of equipment per man. Their understandable tendency would be to seek cover in a firefight, deliver suppressive fires and wait for support fires to win the fight - as often done in Afghanistan.

this photo is famous for good reasons
So I decided to look if my idea of agile infantry is feasible at all with modern technology and a reasonable set of expectations regarding stealth, firepower and endurance. I ventured to see if a basic fighting load could be realised at a mass that allowed for the necessary battlefield performance with somewhat above average physically fit men. I created three profiles (rifleman/grenadier, fire team leader, light machinegunner), of which the light machinegunner kept being the most-laden one throughout the progress of the excel file. This mirrored other non-theoretical loadout lists of about the infantry's burdens (examples 1, 2).

This is the rifleman loadout:

As you can see, it ended up at 22.3 kg with a reasonable potential for further improvement to 21.6 kg (edit: figures are slightly changed due to tinkering with the list). I suppose there would be changes if one army really troops-tested such a loadout. The justified changes might add 2...3 kg. A well-respected rule of thumb is that the marching load should not exceed 30% of body weight, so 25.5 kg for a man of 85 kg.

My basic war weather fighting load list almost arrived at the maximum acceptable marching load despite ultralight ambitions and sacrifices, but a fighting load should be considerably less than the maximum acceptable marching load! Moreover, the additional mission-specific (or colder weather) equipment (demolition equipment, anti-MBT firepower, Minimore, assault ghillie etc.) would easily add another 4...8 kg.

My conclusion is thus that even the merely theoretical test of my thesis debunked the notion of agile infantry, at least the form of agile infantry that I was thinking about. Infantry won't and can't run often and quickly with an individual 21.6...33.3 kg burden.

© Commonwealth of Australia,
Department of Defence,
photo: CAPT Brendan Gilbert
There's one saving grace; the use of a non-powered load-bearing exoskeleton (example) from shoe sole to load-bearing belt could effectively reduce the burden at the hip by up to 80%, which is about 8 kg of about 10 kg (including munitions and water). This would reduce the effective burden (basic warm weather fighting load) to 13.8...17.5 kg for some activities (NOT climbing hills or stairs, or accelerating/slowing down in a run**).

- - - - -

There's a new challenge if and once one accepts an (unpowered) exoskeleton; where's the golden mean? What's the optimum basic load considering that an extension of the exoskeleton to the shoulders would take off burden from the shoulders as well? What about powered exoskeletons (once they are silent enough)? Will adding plate armour everywhere on the body become sensible again?

I don't consider infantry to be a decisive fighting force; it's more of a presence and cautioning force and the eyes (and ears) on the ground than a primary or secondary killing force. This would be different if I considered urban warfare as nearly as important as is still fashionable, but a look at Eastern Europe shows that there's no megacity and the only relevant million-plus city is Warsaw. So we don't need to pay terribly much attention to urban warfare for deterrence purposes or for any not utterly unlikely defence scenarios. Maybe the Poles should, but not the Germans, French, British, Italians or Spanish. We can indeed focus on agricultural areas, villages, wet areas and woodland.

My relatively low prioritization of infantry lethality and high prioritization of its survivability and persistence leads to the conclusion that the optimum for a basic fighting load is very close to the list and an unpowered exoskeleton from sole to hip.



P.S.: It should be illegal to advertise products as "lightweight" or "ultralight" without actually mentioning the weight (NOT the mere area weight of the fabric used) accurately!

*: I'm aware that the rifle will probably not be good for more than 60 shots before the lightweight barrel with its small thermal capacity becomes hotter than it should in a normal firefight, but 60 shots in 2-4 minutes should be plenty since the rifleman should primarily add aimed single shots to the fire team effort, thus also the scope.
**: In fact, the added weight of the exoskeleton would require even more effort for the addition of  potential energy (climbing) and overcoming inertia (acceleration/deceleration), as the exoskeleton merely helps with resisting gravity.

edit: I don't find the link to edit the table any more, but I'd like to add the correction that the boots are a total of about 100 g heavier. The weight given was based on the smallest size (325 g per boot in smallest size, hence "GTX 325")


The role of robustness in deterrence

Nuclear deterrence was the subject of much academic attention especially in the 80's, but I believe the focus on the nuclear side of deterrence led to a neglect of certain aspects of the deterrence topic.

Imagine these scenarios:

There's a certain multiplier (0...1) between nominal military usefulness under ideal conditions and actual military usefulness under the most adverse conditions. The military power that matters for deterrence is the military usefulness under the most adverse conditions. Only this military usefulness/capability remains for sure in face of a surprise aggression. The aforementioned multiplier depends on the potential aggressor(s), of course.

This idea is in my opinion more alien to contemporary thought about military affairs than most readers will believe me. The West in particular has been on the offence for decades, picking the fight most of the time. This tended to give the West the aggressor's advantage of choosing the time and often even the place of the action. Naturally, Western armed forces chose a setting for the strike that allowed them to come close to their full (quality) potential. The West didn't suffer much from strategic surprise attacks, either.

I have looked at European armed forces for years and found many examples of much military spending on capabilities that would not be available under adverse conditions.
This ranges from drones that wouldn't survive in peer warfare to Polish armed forces barracks in artillery range to Russia and a horrible potential vulnerability of extremely expensive combat and combat support aircraft to surprise attacks on airbases.

We could save a lot on the military without suffering a loss of deterrence or defence capability if we got rid of the non-robust elements of our military power that we cannot depend on anyway. Alternatively, we could save a lot by making those non-dependable, non-robust forces more robust so we can afford to reduce expenses on some other end instead.

Either way, potential savings become apparent once one pays more attention to what would be useful under adverse conditions and what wouldn't be.



Summary: Modern air defences for Europe

I do sometimes still encounter some nostalgia regarding the long-gone 70's technology Gepard and Roland air defences of the German Heer and Stormer HVM vehicles of the British Army. The U.S.Army even brings some Avenger vehicles back into active service. Those are expressions of confidence in the SPAAG or the ManPADS approach to battlefield air defences.

I want to tell you that these are obsolete approaches. None of them address the service ceiling issue satisfactorily, which is disqualifying in light of the PGM threat: Strike fighters are now very effective above the effective ceiling of such air defences (unless there's a cloud cover).

Such approaches don't come close to exploit the state of the art and aren't adapted to changed threat munitions (fire and forget missiles of attack helicopters and cheap glide bombs).

A rebuilt, modern battlefield air defence should be an area air defence network that protects spearhead forces from 'behind'* rather than with very short ranged air defences organic to the spearhead forces. Such battlefield air defences shouldn't even differ much from rear area air defences.

Before you read on I'd like to point out that battlefield air defences do not necessarily have the job to reduce hostile air power by attrition. Their primary job is to lessen the effect of hostile air power on friendly land forces and operations. This includes not only damage, killing and destruction, but also reconnaissance, observation and jamming. Air defences may also support land operations by informing ground forces about clear skies, and some battlefield air defences happen to have a secondary ground combat (usually self-defence) capability. Launchers  for air defence missiles may very well be capable of launching drones or artillery rockets instead, air defence guns may very well be suitable as artillery or direct fire ground combat and radars have become amazingly multi-functional. Some radars with agile radio 'beams' can search for and track air targets, search for and track hostile artillery and mortar munitions, track friendly artillery munitions (giving info for correction of aim) and track meteorological balloons all at the same time within their field of view.
_ _ _ _ _

Here's a summary of my opinions on battlefield air defence for Europeans. It's finally all together after having written about details of the subject many times. I'll point out the hardware, as most of air defence is very dominated by the technology in use.

Saab Giraffe 4A as brigade radar; capable of detecting aircraft, missiles, careless helicopters, drones well above treetop height and firing positions of 60+ mm mortars, howitzers and multiple rocket launchers all within reasonable ranges. This would be the universal "brigade" radar, located in support groups rather than battalion battlegroups of (forces of manoeuvre).
The west is lacking a battlefield radar in L band or other long wavelength radar bands for low observable aircraft detection.

HAMMR as battlegroup radar; capable of the same jobs as Giraffe 4A, but at shorter ranges. Advantages: True 360° and on-the-move capability. Giraffe 1X could be a substitute if and only if it can function on the move as a matter of routine. It should also get a rotation symmetric antenna cover to be less striking visually.
This would be the organic radar of battalion battlegroups (forces of manoeuvre), so it has to be more mobile, capable of on-the-move operation, provide 360° service and be less conspicuous than the brigade radar.

AMRAAM-ER as anti-platform area defence missile (could also be ESSM Blk II later on. CAMM-ER could substitute, but it almost certainly lacks the kinematics to help with the air superiority fight at 50,000-55,000 ft, and battlefield air defences should do so occasionally).
This is what one would classically think of as air defence missile; a missile so expensive and capable that it's really meant to shoot down strike fighters and occasionally attack helicopters.

IRIS-T SLM or VL MICA IR as redundancy backup (IR guidance just in case radar guidance fails due to countermeasures).
This is a necessary redundancy (risk management measure) in light of the already extreme dependency on the tiny active radars of AMRAAM, MICA and Meteor (systemic technological risk). IR guidance has issues with the window heating up at high speed flight through dense atmospheres, so IRIS-T SLM has  an ejectable protective nose cone to protect the window from friction until the missile needs to lock on.

Tamir (Iron Dome's interceptor missile, costs less than 100,000 USD) to deal with guided munitions (cruise missiles, glide bombs, loitering anti-radar missiles) and medium to large drones.
The other missiles cost way too much even for the intercept of cruise missiles (which could be cheaper decoys, after all). Tamir may have troublesome requirements for quality of fire control information, but I suppose Giraffe 4A could pull it off.

ALAS-A for non-line of sight engagement against terrain-hugging attack helicopters (if need be based on Helispot triangulation) with additional capacity as artillery counterfire munition. (The other anti-platform missiles could engage helicopters as well if only look down radar targeting info is available).
Fibre-optic guidance has issues especially over long distances, but it provides a man-in-the-loop capability even in most adverse electronic warfare environments. ALAS-A could be used to search for an attack helicopter whose approximate location was triangulated by infrasound only. It could even find and engage a helicopter that's static on the ground.

Any command post vehicle for battlefield air defence would need to be able to integrate such launchers, datalinks and preferably its emitting radio antennas hundreds of metres away. It would be great if a software-defined approach enabled to use some common land forces' battalion-level command post cabins for battlefield air defence after changing the software and adding the keys. Any attempt to realise such a versatile software-defined command post would bog down into a 20-year development program ruined by bureaucrats and lawyers, though.

Calibre .338 to 20 mm RCWS on many military motor vehicles with a 360°x90° passive near-24/7 search sensor, thermal sensor good enough for confirmation/identification and laser for rangefinding and IFF interrogation (response by IR strobe) - semi-automatic engagement mode for protection against small drones ranging from crawling/driving on the ground to about 1,500 m altitude.
20 mm is preferable because 20 mm HE shells can be self-destructing and thus there wouldn't thousands of lethal bullets rain down on the landscape after a couple RCWS opened fire on some low cost drone. The Nexter M621 is a reasonable gun for the purpose.

There are 20 mm RCWS, but none so far are true anti-drone RCWS as far as I know.
Early warning for everyone. Every single soldier can be aware of his or her position with satisfactory accuracy. This doesn't even require permanent GPS or Galileo services; an occasional calibration of a digital inertial navigation system would suffice. Radio technology has become so lightweight, compact and cheap that everyone could carry a personal radio with such an INS (infantry and scouts should have the most useful intra-squad personal radios anyway). Such a position-aware software-defined radio could issue an alert when artillery strikes are incoming and alerts about NBC threats or air attack (or observation) threats.
This awareness about relevant threats that are known to friendly forces could greatly enhance the survivability of the ground forces. They could hide temporarily, take cover, cease emissions, use NBC equipment, and even prepare for hard kill defence (against low level drones).
This benefit depends a lot on effective radio comm, which would be available most of the time, and especially so for 'rear area' support troops.

This should be the mix for battlefield air defences as of today.

Yes, it would be damn expensive. Some of those missiles cost almost € 2 million per piece. But even the most expensive fighter fleets could not fully substitute for such battlefield air defences.
A reminder: Even back in the 70's a single SPAAG did cost roughly three times as much as a MBT. Quality air defences were never cheap. You need to structure the land forces to your needs; perfect battlefield air defences would be too expensive, but too few could lead to horrific avoidable losses and setbacks of the land (and air!) forces.

Further characteristics for an ideal battlefield air defence:
  • Common missile launcher with rocket artillery (the latter is in Europe mostly reduced to launching PGMs anyway) mostly as a quick change pallet on a standard 15 ton 8x8 flat bed or MULTI/EPLS lorry.
  • Common radar with artillery (artillery needs no separate radar except maybe for ground and impact observation purposes**).
  • Integration in air war LINK-16 datalink.
  • No battery organisation, but a corps-wide air defence network (radio and fibreglass landline datalinks).
  • Encryption by one-time pads if possible, alternatively 256 bit keys.
I do not consider SRBMs (short range ballistic missiles) with cluster munitions to be a threat that requires extra countermeasures on the battlefield. The low end of ballistic threats could be countered by the Tamir munition (if not even SPGs in C-RAM mode) if they enter the defence footprint and the high end SRBMs are rather too expensive for mere cluster munitions delivery unless our forces stupidly and unnecessarily expose themselves as high density area targets.***

- - - - -

Rear area (not "battlefield") air defences should have some BMD component (dedicated upward-looking radar with suitable wavelengths, Patriot PAC-3 or other dedicated interceptor missile against Iskander-ish threat missiles) instead of the anti-attack helicopter component.****

Rear area air defences would protect corps HQ, road bridges, airbases, logistical hubs (kinda railheads, but I expect roads to be the dominating supply route infrastructure instead of rails) and capitals in the theatre of war (Warsaw, for example) in wartime. There's little reason to count on them as defence against strategic surprise attacks, though.

Quite the contrary: The battlefield and rear area air defences themselves would offer many high value targets (radars, missiles, command posts) that would be promising targets for a strategic surprise attack with ballistic and cruise missiles. Their exact peacetime location must thus be a well-kept secret (which means near-daily change of garages used by the vehicles) or they must be in really, really well-fortified bunkers that de facto cannot have all their exits blocked.

There are two battlefield air defence exceptions:
(1) Very "far forward" forces such as company-sized raiding elements or armoured recce platoons would have to leave such an air defence support umbrella and they couldn't have much air defence themselves. They could thus limit themselves to having organic passive early warning capacity (passive IR air search sensor such as Rheinmetall FIRST, infrasound-based helicopter detector Helispot) to survive hostile air power by hiding in time. The backup plan would be very short ranged air defences (high elevation guns up to 76 mm calibre, ManPADS). Their defence against drones would be the same RCWS tech as mentioned before. The larger raiding forces might also add a few missiles (such as IRIS-T SLM) so they can harass hostile air power (combat aviation close to airbases, transport and utility helicopters) but this would be a luxury.
(2) "Low budget" land forces and very small size land forces couldn't afford the whole battlefield air defence umbrella. They could still afford a minimum of robust ManPADS (such as RBS 70 NG with Bolide missile) for below-clouds defences, but this would not be a necessity as such "low budget" brigades and battlegroups should operate under the area air defence 'umbrella' of an allied and  more lavishly funded armed service.
Anti-drone RCWS are still a necessity. At least some very survivable passive sensors (Rheinmetall FIRST, Helispot) and datalink connectivity are a necessity if the allied air defences cannot rely on target data from allied air power (AEW, fighters). A partial radar equipment (battlegroup radar) could make sense, but would be quite expensive (thus rather not HAMMR or Giraffe 4A).

- - - - -

Now let's talk about vulnerabilities: The need to reach high with hard kill air defences requires large missiles that then happen to have long ranges at least at lower altitudes. For manoeuvre forces to dispense with the burden of organic air defences requires the use of area air defences (again, large missiles) to still keep the manoeuvre elements covered. All this leads to what's fashionably called "network centric" air defence. It's no more about one AFV carrying a search radar, a fire control radar and armament to independently sense and destroy an air threat (the concept of the Gepard SPAAG). The dispersion of the air defence network's parts to many different vehicles leads to a demand for decentralised electrical power supply (no more central generators as in SPAAGs or old school SAM batteries) and a dependence on communication (data) links. These data links would overwhelmingly be radio links, and they could be disrupted at least temporarily and locally. Some jamming-proof means of data transmission can be used (such as fibre optic cables, and potentially laser communication), and redundancy (HF AND SatCom  instead of but one) could help alleviate the rest of the problem. Radio datalink reliability is a general problem of high tech armed forces.
Another vulnerability is in the stationary operation of the Giraffe 4A radar, albeit this is utterly commonplace. Airborne radar support may furthermore be pushed back by hostile fighter threats, which reduces such air force support just as air force fighter cover to a likely intermittent support.

There's one more thing to mention, but it's more about theatre operations and air superiority than about battlefield air defence or rear area object defences: SM-6 missiles could be used to intervene in the  air superiority fight or push hostile tanker and AEW aircraft far back, also deny access to hostile transport aircraft in hundreds of km radius. Such SM-6 launchers would not really need to be integrated with the battlefield air defences; they would rather be a rare asset that's posing a latent threat and headache to the opposing air forces' leadership ('fleet-in-being' effect). 100 such missiles on 25 datalink-equipped semi-trailers under central air war command & control could suffice to achieve this effect in Eastern Europe.


So now you can nail me down on this if any of these items or underlying methods prove to be a failure or dead end in the future.


*: This isn't literally "behind". I'm thinking of support elements with self-defence capability (support groups) providing support to manoeuvre elements (battalion battlegroups). The greater the radius of the 'umbrella of support', the more lean, agile and freely manoeuvring the manoeuvre combat forces may be. So this is far from a linear front line doctrine's idea of "behind".
**: And I think those should be operating on the move, using the Hovermast approach. 
***: Such as the classic traffic jams ahead of a crossroad or bottleneck, or a too compact bivouac. 
****: A defence against longer-ranged ballistic missiles isn't necessary; those would likely be nuclear-tipped anyway, and to undermine such strategic nuclear deterrence is expensive, but not wise. Our protection against such missiles are our (British and French) equivalent missiles.


Link drop 5/2018


Some men get bones broken in their feet when their exhausted muscles cannot sufficiently support the bones any more.

I show this because I mentioned the principle a couple times, without backing that up. The BROACH warhead combines a shaped charge with an explosive warhead that follows through the hole or at least penetrated the badly weakened cover. This can be done with anything from big bombs to man-portable munitions (Bunkerfaust, for example). The consequence of this technology is huge, for it devalues hardened aircraft shelters. Those really only protect against blast, fragmentation and the tiniest of munitions (autocannon shells, 70 mm rockets). A Small Diameter Bomb (250 lbs class) can penetrate the weak roof of a hardened aircraft shelter even without a shaped charge. A single cruise missile that dispenses submunitions could penetrate three hardened aircraft shelters if those submunitions use shaped charges to assist the penetrator.

I don't think it's very important for land attack because they would need their Su-34 high end strike fighters and MiG-31 interceptors for different tasks.

It would be interesting to see what's the practical visible range (important for rear area troops who lack night vision and make use of illumination munitions) and how well it works with night vision goggles (likely fine, especially when the luminescent coating is thin).
The cone angle in which this is visible is interesting as well, for tracers also have a communication function. A team or squad leader may use a different tracer colour to point at where to shoot at, controlling the fires of his small unit by visuals.

I would love to have a current Bundeswehr infantryman's gear list in that format, to compare with what ultralight gear is on the market and see what's the difference.
I made a rather comprehensive excel table to see how low you can go in regard to weight with an extremist ultralight approach, but I arrived at about 24.4 kg for a rifleman and 26 kg for a light machinegunner in non-urban summertime missions. That's what the marching load (not fighting load) of a fit 90 kg man should weigh. One might reduce this to about 24 kg for both with even more extreme measures, but I don't see how one could reasonably go lower without polymer cartridge cases (up to 2.1 kg savings for light machinegunner and 0.9 kg for rifleman at 600 and 250 rds respectively).



Iran and aggression

The Iran deal had three objectives as far as I can tell:

1) keep Iran from getting nukes, as nuclear proliferation is considered to be bad regardless of how friendly or unfriendly the aspiring power is

2) keep Israel, the U.S. (and possibly the Arabian peninsula kleptocracies as well) from attacking Iran with air strikes

3) lessening or ending the economic sanctions that did hurt Western economic activity as well

The negotiated deal was such a Western success that I was astonished. I had not expected such a thorough success, hadn't really considered it possible. The West got practically everything it could reasonably ask for. All warmonger/idiot trash talk aside, it was likely the biggest diplomatic success of the U.S. during all eight Obama administration years.

The warmongers fumed. They hadn't meant the sanctions to force Iran into concessions regardless of how much they had pretended it. They meant the sanctions as a tool in setting a narrative of Iran supposedly having violated rules* and being the bad guy.

Now we're back at a point where aggression against Iran by Western or supposedly Western nuclear powers is not unlikely.

Diplomats, think tankers and politicians of Europe wonder how to deal with this - the original three intents still appear to apply.

- - - - -

There's a very, very simply way how Europe (or Russia) could decisively act and ensure that there's no such aggression: The old school way. Issue a guarantee of sovereignty (promising to answer to an aggression with violence against the aggressor) or enter an alliance with Iran outright.
I have wondered for a long time why Russia and Iran didn't do this years ago, but I suppose the relationship is complicated. The Russians probably don't want to be drawn into the Mid East mess
beyond their control and the Iranians may fear that such a big brother would become too dominant in the relationship.

Anyway, it's almost certainly not going to happen. The current crop of European politicians isn't capable of such actions. They are much more focused on being mere administrators, not used to bold moves and major changes. They're also struggling with how to keep U.S.-European relations intact despite the moron in chief and with keeping Turkey more or less in the Western camp. They're not going to do anything bold or daring.

But Europe certainly could do resources-wise. Israel could not dare to attack a treaty ally of Europe's major powers, as it could be strangled to unconditional surrender by a blockade within a year. The U.S. would lose way too much by turning on Europe, especially considering that there's practically nothing to be gained by attacking Iran and most Americans appear to understand this.


P.S.: For readers who understand German: Here is a (as far as I can tell 95% accurate) summary of the Iran-U.S./Israel/Saudi-Arabia conflict.

*: There's still no evidence that Iran actually violated the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty - the official nuclear cannot claim such a thing because of its article VI. Iran didn't attack any country in well over a hundred years either (it's unclear whether there are Iranian advisors in Yemen in Syria are there with or without toleration by the Syrian regime - that's the one borderline exception).


Direct fire observers

A 1950's book about the campaign in Russia 1941-1945 mentioned a specific tank tactic of Russian T-34s that was most annoying, and most difficult to counter: A single tank would appear, shoot, disappear, rinse and repeat using different shooting positions. 
I don't consider it  a widespread tactic because it takes skill, a good gearbox condition and I would have read about it in much more sources if it was widespread.

Quite the same tactic was also mentioned in an American publication a couple months ago; apparently a MBT crew appeared, shot, disappeared, rinse and repeat during an exercise while never using any firing position a second time. The American author was flabbergasted - he had never before seen such a feat.

So I suppose it's safe to say that this is still far from a common skill, but a most desirable and very effective one. The Leo2 and indeed many Western MBTs were actually designed with this in mind; that's why they have good backward acceleration and speed: They can quickly leave a firing position to seek the next one - ideal for ambush and delaying actions. Russian/Soviet tanks lack this (though I'm not sure about the T-14), their backwards speed is walking pace. This (not their poor maximum gun elevation) is the basis for the claim that they are tanks for attack, not defence.

Some popular computer games that more or less simulate tank combat use an interesting feature in the least realistic mode (or just in general): A target is visible as an icon or outline if only an allied player within a certain radius can see said target. This is super-unrealistic so far, and hugely beneficial. You can literally shoot armour-piercing shots through dense foliage without being seen, or appear at a corner with the gun already aimed at the target, shoot and disappear.

- - - - - 

Now let's connect the dots: Is such a marker of a target's position with distance info really unrealistic or is it merely a so far not implemented feature?*
Couldn't one vehicle raise a tiny sensor on a mast, detect a target, determine its coordinates, transmit the target info to other vehicles by radio and one other vehicle could be a tank that loads the correct round, orients main gun correctly, drives just around a corner and shoots before it withdraws to cover before the dust settles? Couldn't said tank even shoot one APFSDS round through concealment such as 20 m of bushes instead of ever leaving concealment?

We're used to the idea that forward observers help indirect fires. Maybe we should think of forward observers as helpful to flat trajectory (quasi-direct) fires, too?

A software update for such a feature could be worth more than an active protection system that stops both APFSDS and diving top attack missiles. The value would be greater on the defence or in slow offensive actions than in rapid or brutish offensive manoeuvres, of course.
Such an innovation would strengthen the case for a light tank with very capable gun and great "situational awareness" at least for the purpose of defensive actions.


*: I know about blue force tracker and similar systems (and their slow update process). That's not what I mean. I'm really thinking of markers shown in (digital) thermal weapon sights and on the soon-to-be-standard all-round vision monitors.


Individual visible spectrum camouflage

Here's a summary of what I think I understood about individual (and exclusively regarding the human visible spectrum) camouflage so far:

Personal observation:
  • I suck at spotting camouflaged persons at any reasonable distance. I really, really do.
  • Maybe that's why I respect the effect of camouflage as much as I do.
Just in case someone trusts the competence of bureaucracies to procure the best possible camo.

About camouflage patterns (excluding snow camo):
  • micropatterns matter only at short distances
  • macropatterns are important for breaking up recognisable silhouettes at longer distances (30+ m)
  • digital camo was a 2000's fashion and is a way of combining a micropattern with a macropattern. That was done in Flecktarn earlier and without the digital style, though
  • the longer the distances and the poorer the light, the less do the colours matter and the more do brightness contrasts matter to keep up contrast in the pattern (there's a limit, though)
  • that's why black makes sense in camouflage patterns even though there's not much black in nature. Another reason for black in patterns is that it's quite the same as shadows, and those are plenty in nature.
  • white or very light yellow or very light brown colours may serve to maximise the contrast by adding a light colour instead of black
  • colours get washed out over time and much contrast is then lost
  • soaked wet clothes are darker and lose contrast compared to dry ones (though impregnation should keep good clothes from becoming that wet)
  • all camo patterns can be turned into the irregular "mud camo" pattern in almost no time 
  • the former point applies especially to pattern-camouflaged boots
  • at very long ranges almost everything that matters is whether you have approximately the same brightness as your background (example Yehudi lights) (this issue is the aforementioned limit)
  • any coloured clothes - even pink ones - can be turned much less conspicuous by adding a dense black net
  • camouflage patterns get disrupted a lot by gear, and often times the gear destroys the macro pattern effect or even creates easily recognisable new outlines (especially when the gear such as a chest rig uses a different camouflage pattern or is unicolour). Such extra gear may also create shadows (especially next to pouches) that greatly alter the appearance
  • good camouflage patterns discourage the use of additional camouflage measures on the pattern-covered areas
  • all camo patterns appear to be realised as tiles, though in theory one could use fractal algorithms etc to create boundless patterns that are functional on very large areas without repeating tiles
  • camouflage patterns were used as means of identifying friend or foe in infantry battles when most camouflage clothing was still unicolour; it's often claimed that this inhibited the adoption of camo patterns by the Western Allies in Europe
  • old Warsaw Pact-style stripe camo patterns (which can be created easily with household utensils) appear to have fallen out of use
  • plants in nature often have a vertical structure (though branches are often horizontal) - this makes horizontally-dominated pattern such as the well-known tiger stripe pattern questionable
  • the earliest land warfare camouflage pattern was probably the fairly standardised style (or fashion) of painting Stahlhelme, guns and motor vehicles in WW1
  • the first mass-produced camouflage pattern was afaik Heeres-Splittermuster 31, but it was used for tent tarps (Zeltbahn 31) rather than clothing. The triangle tarp was also used as a kind of poncho and for much else, though
  • military camouflage is abstract, while civilian hunting camouflage may be photorealistic (example Realtree patterns)
  • for reasons utterly unknown to me I don't know of a single serious attempt to mimic the evolution-optimised camouflage of stalking predators of the relevant geographic region (such as lynx, wild cat) in military camouflage tests or even mass-produced products
  • sometimes new camo patterns were created and introduced into armed services simply because the bureaucracy didn't want to pay the license fee for an existing (usually extremely similar) pattern (see OCP)
  • there are fun camo patterns  
  • some camo patterns got excused for their ineffectiveness at camouflaging anyone by pointing out how well they hide stains  instead of their wearer (this applies especially to proprietary air force and navy patterns)
  • camo patterns are often selected for utterly nonsensical reasons (see the Chinese marines' "smurf" camo or UCP) instead of effectiveness. Sometimes camo patterns are introduced to break uniformity; different armed services insist on different patterns  for different branding/identity, or "special forces" get their own camo to feel better than regular army

About non-pattern individual camouflage:
  • face paint draws most of its effect from messing with face detection; Europeans expect darkness above or around eyes, and lips darker than the skin. Hence we should have the normally light-coloured skin areas darker than the ordinarily darker face areas after the application of camo paint
  • helmets have an easily recognisable shape, thus it has to be changed by scrims, foliage or Mitznefet-like camo
  • leaf camouflage may have much camouflage effect at short ranges akin to micropatterns
  • face masks/balaclavas are incredibly effective if they have a decent pattern, but maintaining a full field of view is more important than face camouflage maximisation (for general infantry - it's debatable for snipers)
  • partial concealment greatly enhances almost any camouflage because it breaks up the silhouette
  • ghillie suits are a fire hazard if not treated chemically, may be quite hot (insulation by boundary layer effect), may obstruct access to carried equipment and are quite impractical in general use - ghillies can be fascinatingly effective camo when the featured colours were tailored to the area, though
  • often times unicolour (black, brown or light brown) boots, weapons, gloves or knee protectors ruin the effect of camouflage patterns
  • externally carried large munitions (such as anti-tank rounds) may have a disastrous effect on camouflage quality as well
  • the oldest camo clothes in Europe were unicolour (often greyish or greenish), and the Bundeswehr kept using such an approach into the 90's. Unicolour is still in much use for non-clothes infantry gear (chest rigs, pouches, gun slings, guns, large munitions, night vision goggles mounts on helmets). Coyote brown appears to be a fashionable choice for this, though matte black and dark green tones are also in very widespread use.

This may be debatable:

My personal favourite from a purely aesthetic point of view is Realtree xtra. This one looks perfectly compatible with civilian life in Germany (on a t-shirt), year round. It was seemingly designed to have a camouflage effect up close (the similar Realtree Edge pattern is supposed to have a macro pattern effect).
the Realtree xtra tile
As a personal insight I came to the conclusion that a brownish pattern should work best as an all-seasons pattern in Central and NE Europe. Brown is not out of place anywhere where one might reasonably try to remain undetected by camouflage (that is, not in the midst of green grass, for example). It's even very inconspicuous in many urban areas. Brown works even where most background is green because it's still not terribly unrealistic/out of place and works especially fine with partial concealment. Green by contrast is quite out of place in many urban, suburban and rural environments for at least half of the year (except again on the rather irrelevant grass areas). Brown isn't very good at providing contrast, though. An addition of a little sand-like yellow and some black (dark brown might lose too much when washed out) may be necessary. A little - actually very little as in xtra- green could be added as well.
Interestingly, this comes close to some brown-dominated hunting camos as the one shown above.

I consider the velcro patch areas way too generously large on many current field jackets, especially on those meant for civilian buyers. Patches and stuff should be worn on office clothes or ceremonial clothes, not on camouflage/field clothing. Medics are exempted, of course.

I never really figured out what's the idea behind the Kryptek style of camo patterns. It's supposedly micro/macro with a (warped) net effect, but I simply don't see enough contrast for real macro camouflage effect in most of the patterns ("altitude" is an exception).

Infantrymen and scouts should be kept dissatisfied with their camo pattern, to keep them motivated to adapt to the terrain with improvised (additional) camouflage.

There are too many pseudo-tacticool fake camo patterns in civilian clothing fashion in my opinion.

Last but not least; an obligatory video on the camouflage topic:



P.S.: Just to be super-accurate: The first (famous) photo may be a bit untrue to the real situation. The UCP camo looks too blueish. UCP was a disaster nevertheless, and just about everybody was able to see it for what it was from the beginning.

edit few days later: I'd like to add that we need a different approach regarding macropatterns with arms, worn accessories, AT munitions and guns than in the pattern tiles for  torso, legs, tarps and rucksacks. Those are large areas, but the often narrow and long guns, light AT munitions and even arms cannot really make use of the tile macropatterns - darker or lighter becomes random on those. We should thus have a separate pattern with identical colour palette for such items - and it should provide a dark-light-dark-light-dark-light sequence along the narrow item to break its silhouette up.So any camouflage pattern should actually have two tiles - one for large surfaces and one for narrow surfaces (the latter would need to be used with an approximately correct orientation).