There's little emphasis on brigades and divisions

Many European armies have displayed a tendency to think in battalions rather than in brigades or divisions during the past 15 years. The U.S. armed forces with their huge size have shown this tendency much less by comparison, often deploying entire brigades (albeit with some of their units repurposed) for occupation warfare.

The multinational pseudo tripwire battalions in the Baltic countries and Poland even combined contributions as small as companies into multinational battlegroups. NATO's so-called quick reaction forces such as VJTF are composed of battalions that would be ripped out of their national brigade or division structure.

Germany had brigades for years that were incapable of combined arms tactics as they lacked artillery. I criticised these merely administrative organisations (that were no combat formations) before.

All this emphasis on companies and battalions does to some degree fit to the increased tactical mobility (full motorisation) and the few forces that are available for large potential theatres of war. The more mobile and less numerous troops you have, the more you're inclined to disperse them into small packages to still cover the large area. You better be able to mass once in a while (and quickly), though.

On the other hand, we used to have brigades and divisions for a purpose; they were combined arms formations that had almost all they needed in battle as organic assets, including specialist troops and equipment such as bridgelayers and battlefield air defences. We could have had a patchwork of individual independent battalions all the time, but we chose to set up brigades and divisions to foster better understanding and cooperation between officers who know each other, brigade commanders to whom a battalion isn't just a designation and a map symbol, but associated with officers of a known quality, and the commanders also used to know the state and quality of the training. They knew this instantly, and didn't need weeks or months to learn about those forces as with multinational patchwork forces.
NATO has emphasised interoperability for decades, but I have a gut feeling that even perfect "interoperability" would be no sufficient substitute for officers and staffs really knowing their subordinated and neighbour units.* I've experienced NATO bureaucracy bollocks myself and are thus inclined to suspect that whatever on-paper descriptions of units the NATO staffs have aren't worth the paper unless they are impractically long.

The radios and their encryption (if present at all) may be compatible, and technical terms may be sufficiently harmonised (at least their English versions), but "interoperability" and knowing each other are apples and oranges - neither can fully substitute the other.

Moreover, actual warfare in Europe would happen over a large area, with corps or theatre headquarters in their normal non-small war job description. Formations at an intermediate level between battalion and corps seem wise for certain activities.
We could devise a doctrine in which no brigades or divisions exist; just a theatre command and lots of battalions. It may be possible that such a doctrine would serve well in deterrence and defence. We don't have such a doctrine, though. We need the formations that are prominent in our actual doctrine in order to be efficient at deterrence and defence.


P.S.: I've been an outsider for so long that I cannot be sure about this, it's rather a suspicion, me connecting a few dots. 

*: Even though the CvC school of thought would emphasise a need to mass, but that doesn't need to be the correct answer. CvC's main body of work is poor advice for underdogs, for example. Hence his remarks about guerilla warfare.


  1. In an EW environment C3 is limited to locality only. Batallions will be the largest formation that could be reasonably said to be able to maintain C3 in that situation. That would suggest attempting to broaden the capabilities of battalions, arty radars, ew, elint, drones, does this in effect not mean this formation should be viewed as a small brigade? RUS tried this with their battalion tactical groups. They moved back to brigades for their broader force, so it was a failure?

    So, broad battalions for tactical command in denied environments. In order that they can avoid fires and deny the enemy in their own locale in the absence of reliable C3 from a higher formation.

    Brigade takes command at operational level, carries the more specialised equipment, secures supply, route opening, counter battery, long range fires etc... It has duties to maintain contact with forward battalions to pass information up to division for strategic planning for their 12000+ troops.

    Every advancement in warfare seems to delegate responsibility down the chain of command. The above is asking an awful lot of battalion commanders. The additional knowledge they would need vs today is scary to think about. I'd say its asking too much.

    We're screwed until we can get decentralised AI into the chain. The current iteration of warfare seems to demand more than leaders than they can be expected to supply. Furthermore, listening to guys in positions of power talk about 'cyber' has given me cancer. They talk about it as if there will be a to and fro fight, as opposed to everything going down then three weeks of techs asking each other "what happened".

    Open architecture to aid in interoperability and I foresee problems, don't and our forces can't work together so we've already reduced perceived output therefore reducing deterrence.

    I have fantasies about military networks with built in honeypots, hardware with multiple isolated switchable firmware chips, instance control, distributed scheduling, procedurally generated contextually correct spam, etc... What I imagine we'll get is "say again" over and over again in a dozen languages.

    If we fight the next war in the next decade, it may be the largest display of military incompetence the world has ever seen.

    That's what leads me towards over emphasis on battalion resilience. But thats a dead end as well. So läuft der hase.

    1. Your basic premise is questionable.
      HF radio can be jammed without line of sight, but other tactical radios are fairly difficult to reach and jam for hostile jammers unless the jammer is very close or has a radio line of sight, such as emitting from a hill.

      The problem with radio comm jamming is in my opinion rather that troops in contact have about the same kind of connection towards receivers as the hostile troops in contact have, so the latter can jam about as well as you can send data. Hence the interest in frequency hopping etc.
      The 'rear' troops should usually be able to maintain radio comm if they have somewhat modern radio tech.

      I meant to write an article about ECM that touches on this, but I have been delaying it for months.

    2. Satellites are gone. Jammers can be drone and artillery delivered. Force density means there is no true front line. Battalions will be assumed to be isolated from the second line. Lines of communication will not be considered secure.

      There is going to have to be an acceptance that battalions are going to be enveloped to varying degrees. So we don't need panic from the Bn or from higher command. It means fighting to transit the MSR every time. It means constant costly recon to contact There is no way around this. I fear there are a lot of default thinking on certain topics that remains unchallenged in people who are attempting to envisage current/future war. That is dangerous.

      'Cyber' is what it is. Everything is full of Chinese componentry, maybe we get to day two they flick a switch and brick everything. There are some very cheap, very available, spookily similar Chinese radios to everyone's favourite Thales set.

      I would say if anyone above the tactical level is assuming that C3 won't be contested effectively and continuously from dozens of vectors they are a dangerous idiot.

      The yanks are crazy, they are heading in the wrong direction and failing to solve their massive structural failures. They can however be counted on to have voiced some interesting ideas, even if they then overlook them. Their idea of multiple contested domains.

      The attack doesn't begin with a grad strike controlled by FOB. It starts with a narrow cyber attack on a units C3, maybe brick all the radios, maybe spam spurious comms from inside the net. Comms nets are incredibly vulnerable and for effect only have to be denied for a few key moments to ruin a bns day.

      Strategically those domains can be contested in very insidious ways, maskirovka plus past, present, future vulnerability to our C3+computers is a rat hole that produces scenarios that could see us lose very easily.

      That's the enemies vote. As you say the current patchwork of firmware and hardware versions will not work together on a flat field now.

      We'll muddle through. Grit. Determination. Adapt and overcome. It'll be alright on the night. Computers don't work like that. Networks are disgustingly, unhelpfully pedantic.

      If you can't get comms, you can't get comms. It doesn't matter whether its through enemy action or our own arrogance and technical ignorance. The effect is the same.

  2. Imo something between a modern brigade and a bataillon tactical group could be the solution here with an binary organisation of the units at every echelon. Not so different from what the us army tried with the fcs structure - 2 Bataillons and additional units combined (instead of the 1 Bataillon with ad-ons of the bataillon tactical group).

    In WW2 many RCT of the us forces were formed like that, especially the cavalry RCT s. This cavalry RCT s are imo the right size today for a combat formation with enough combat power, the ability for combined arms/operations but small enough to be fast and to have enough such units in comparison to the space of the land.

    The exact name for such formations is imo not important. One could call them (mini) brigades, or regimental combat teams or combat groups or whatever. What matters more than the name is the size and the composition.

    This said, this is imo also right for all kind of echelons. It does not matter if we name a unit a brigade or a divison or a small corps etc, but instead of the name the size, then manpower, the exact organisation of the sub-units is more important.

    So i would combine two such combat-groups (each with two bataillons plus additional units) into one brigade with again additional units.

    The structure should be as follows:

    2 combat-groups, 1 air-defence/artillery group, x addtional support bataillons/companies.

    No divisions above this (because the brigades would become in this way mini-divisions) but instead different kind of this brigades should form then an corps.

    Such a corps could for example include:

    2 airdefence/rocket-artillery-Brigades, 2 rsta-armoured recce brigades, 4 mechanised brigades, 2 combat support brigades (including infantry combat groups), 1 special forces brigade (especially lrrp units), 1 army aviation brigade, x additional support/C4ISTAR bataillons/companies.

    So much my thoughts about a new corps / brigade / combat group / bataillon structure.

    1. Look, this wasn't about ideal fantasy TO&Es. I was pointing out that several NATO armies have neglected to pay respect to their own doctrine regarding formations.

      I have two concepts on how it could be done differently than the current nominal doctrines, but priority #1 should be to get a match between doctrine in use and the organisation in use.

  3. You re right, i missed the point. But one of the two main points of me was not the TOE but the overemphasis on the terms in the western tm armies: to name formations in a specific way and to restrict them then very much according to this. So nowadays we do not have usable organnic brigades and not usable organic divisions either. But if we look at the stuff which is real available and forget about the name of the unit, then the Bundeswehr for example has in reality two brigades which can be used as such.

    Because if you forget about the term and its meaning and cut away everything that does not work or is not existent in reality, the two german "divisions" then would be fully combined arms brigades, with artilley and everything else.

    To achieve this they must only leave behind what is not fit for service or only available on the paper.

    As you claim a lack of organic structure, that one officer will not know the other one because of ad hoc patchwork units, if we have to create brigades out of several units from the scratch i would argue, that if we use the units as they are and create brigades through cutting away units this would imo conserve the organic chain of command. In this case the officers would knew each other and the toe would be organic.

    So instead of creating brigades out of bataillons in ad hoc patchwork units, we could create them out of the divisons in scaling down the "divisions" under perpetuation of the organic chain of command and units.

    The only thing necessary for that would be to ignore the terms and not to say: a division is a division / a brigade is a brigade etc and therefore cannot be anything else. If one ignore the terms and its meanings the NATO tm armies could deploy much more combat worth / combined arms brigades much more easily.

  4. Off topic, I know, but I hope you choose to keep on going with this blog as it's one of the few still going that feature intelligent debate on military topics and strongly discourage trolling and other idiocy that so pollute most other fora. This and Corporal Frisk are far and away my favourite discussi9n/opinion sites since the demise of thinkdefence.co.uk.