The next breakthrough in land warfare

It seems as if just abut every army that's thinking about going against some first rate opposition is concerned with at least one of these two fears:
  • hostile air power will oppress you
  • hostile well-aimed quick reaction artillery fires will destroy you
It appears that there's almost no confidence or hope regarding hard kill defences against either.

These fears dominate how armies expect to fight against a first-rate opposition. Land forces would strive to be dispersed almost all the time and hiding almost as much. They may also stock up on carried supplies, expecting that supply lines would be terrorized if not completely shut down by air power.*
This apparent feeling of the reign of firepower may be broken by changes, of course. The 18th century ancien régime way of war in Europe was  stuck in using expensive professional troops with elaborate campaign logistics, and there were few army leaders able to overcome the fear of losing these difficult-to-replace troops, so campaigns were about marching, camping and relatively unbloody sieges (with garrisons usually surrendering right before the final assault).

Then came the French Revolution, and a new model arose; outright conscription created levée en masse for many amateurish troops and the comforts of camps were ditched (including the tents for enlisted personnel!) for greater operational mobility. The tethering on supply depots was given up.
It's already obvious that the current model of all-professional armies is inefficient. It's like having an army of knights on horse and in plate armour, with each five non-combat servants for support. There was never such an army. Cheap infantry (including de facto levies or mercenaries) was always more numerous than the knights and often the support personnel was employed as combat troops as well. There were already dreams of all-mechanised armies in the 1930's (de Gaulle) and some laymen keep dreaming of formations in the field mounted entirely on tracked protected vehicles, but it always proved superior to have a spear: Iron, high quality and high cost spearhead, but most of the spear formed by much softer, less dense and cheaper wood. We eventually saw all horses ditched in fully motorised Western Allied land forces in Western and Southern Europe in 1943-1945 (at least in flatlands), but complete mechanisation was never attempted for cost and logistics reasons.
Now applying this simple insight, the optimal force structure would include much more motorised yet not armoured infantry and scouts (militia, conscripts, volunteers) than present European armies have. Moreover, we could do something that should be obvious, but might still be considered outside-the-box thinking: Hire poor and thus cheap troops from Africa, train them harshly, employ them as quantity infantry to control areas led by European officers and NCOs.
Quantity armies would largely defeat current conventional air power because the ability of air power to deal with a huge quantity of low value targets is poor.  The gold-plated combat aircraft of today are simply not built for this.

A breakthrough against the current paradigm is unlikely to happen during a single war. It would likely happen if we encounter a series of hot conflicts or if one major power gets serious, overcomes conservatism and embarks on a military revolution similar to the founding of Panzer divisions in the 1930's. The Russians (Soviets) did it once with Tukhachevsky's "Deep battle", but proceeded to sabotage the effort soon after.

The fear of air power and artillery firepower will most likely be overcome through some adjustments. The big question is whether we'll overcome it the normal human way or by moving on to autonomous drone armies.

*: There isn't really enough air power to do so except the relatively easy bridge-busting, but the needed civilian drivers might refuse to risk their lives.


  1. Screw antiquity, embrace modernity. Build 10M loitering munitions.

    Large infantry forces could be useful on the modern battlefield. I cant see any European nation standing them up.

    Hangover from 90s air war crap.
    Unwillingness (missplaced due to global strike) to place that many 'in harms way'.
    Corporate capture, infantry forces have a far lower profit margin for defence contractors. Higher % of budget spent on wages.
    Complete lack of experience among the brass in handling, training and maintaining such formations.
    Lack of appreciation for the scale of the 2nd,3rd echelon (and basing) that would be needed to support such a force.

    There might be a chance that if a 'race to war' is spotted by Europe that such a force is stood up. If the effort was single minded it could be fielded quite quickly. All I think would happen is a failed attempt to add 20% to the existing structure.

  2. The levée en masse was preceded by the pike blocks which in turn were countered by reiter type cavalry with massed firearms in a back and forth of developments and counters. Technologies that favour humans over capital investments would favour Asian and African powers who do and will hold much of the human population. In European cultures, we are locked into capital intense solutions due to shrinking populations. Maybe maintenance, repair and administration can become more automated, requiring fewer people or a greater labour pool through work from home over internet connections.

    How serious is such a threat to Europe and how should we deal with it? Strengthen migration and integration to increase population numbers? Invest into some workplace automation and sophisticated power tools?

    1. Europeans have about 400 million people. Total war mobilization can go up to 10% even without conscription for women. We have plenty military age citizens and more specifically males in Europe.
      The issue is rather one of motivation (money allocation) if anything.
      I'm fine with the active forces personnel strengths in Europe, but the wartime strengths (active + reserves) could be raised.

    2. "In European cultures, we are locked into capital intense solutions due to shrinking populations."

      That's not true, btw.
      We accumulated capital, so capital became relatively plentiful. Manpower got scarce in the late 50's to late 60's in Germany - a time when the population wasn't shrinking at all.

      Manpower scarcity is a relative phenomenon here. We still have plenty manpower.

    3. In the 50s and 60s there was a shortage of labour with current technology in parts of Europe which might have been due to war losses and reduced fertility due to the effects of the war. Underemployment and unemployment currently show the opposite in Europe as a whole and taking Europe as a whole, the 50s and 60s were a population shift within.
      I understand that Europe has lots of people, but in a Red Queen's Race, we are behind other regions of the globe, because our young carry lots of old people who can contribute little and we are few and going to be few compared to other parts of the globe. China is going to face a similar problem of an aging population.

      Europe might encounter the countries of the new global middle class as foes and friends and their greater abundance of brains managing AI and machines might give them an edge. This might be more of an accidental development of things that work, because nobody could foresee what technology would enable due to its rapid development. The countries of the global middle class all have an advantage with their more numerous STEM graduates. Here might be the crux of the matter, human brains without tools and tools with little human brain could be beaten by more educated human brains with sufficient tools.

      We might have bet in Europe on young women in the fighting force, but they might turn out to get pregnant in ever larger numbers, the more frightening the situation they are sent into. The boys would certainly also like that route to avoid danger, but can't. Other countries are better capable to utilize that part of the population through control measures on fertility, including forced abortions. I doubt that even in a war frenzy our society could go as far, especially given our chronic shortage of children.

      So I have doubts Europe is going to play much of a role or be a winner in the next global conflict. Our manpower is scarce in relative, not in absolute terms.

    4. The notion of "winner in the next global conflict" is plain bullshit.

      What matters is whether we have what it takes to deter aggressors and whether we keep dangerous idiots from extraordinary power, so we don't become aggressors.

    5. winner = participant among the winning powers
      The new order is likely to be shaped to the advantage of the winning powers who will try to enhance their future growth potential.

    6. People who start wars are usually not that rational.
      I suppose the most likely reason for a new great power war is that some leader becomes convinced that his faction will be attacked unless he/she/it attacks first. Such wars tend to have no clear intent regarding the post-war world.
      Just look at Germany and WWI: Never once during four years of war did the German government settle on any plan for the post-war world or even only demandson the defeated powers. They stumbled into the war because they believed that war is coming anyway.
      None of the war-waging powers of WWI meant to improve its post-war prosperity through the war.

      And as any studied economist can tell you, future growth potetnial has squat to do with what you can achieve through war unless that war breaks a severe restriction of access to critical resources that lack substitutes. There's a list of thigns that influence the growth path, and hardly any policy short of major economy system change or introduction of rule of law has a discernible influence on the long-term GDP growth trend.

    7. We can agree on the cluelessness with which Germany entered WWI and didn't find out. But even during that war there were a bunch of high flying plans for an unshakable hegemonic post-war order.
      WWII is a better example of policies intending to curb the potential of the defeated and make East and West slaves of a long lived empire. My opinion is that many wars do contain a dose of Lebensraum policies, although these are often better hidden.

    8. Well, that's a wrong opinion.
      The "Lebensraum" bullshit was about expanding into areas NOT settled by your people to dominate the foreigners there in Spartan style.
      The typical European war is about border being perceived as illegitimately and inappropriately drawn due to old claims or simply about conflicts in mixed ethnics regions. A few others were wars of national unification or ideological civil wars.
      Wars are often attempts to about resolve issues, very rarely about greedy expansion or world domination. Only Hitler and Stalin did that.

      Even wars for natural resources were very rare in Europe for hundreds of years. The "Cod Wars" (not real wars) were the closest thing to it in the 20th century.

    9. Take the English conquest of Ireland as an example of such a policy. The food exports during the potato famine make the point quite clear.
      I agree that most wars were having a pretext to redraw borders which in turn brought the state more resources and area that could be defended at a lower cost per capita. From the ruling elite's perspective, they were subjugation additional land and people to secure their hold on power. We cross talk at two different levels of perception.

    10. Ireland was conquered by the English more than 300 years ago. Your "example" is not contradicting anything I wrote here.

  3. KRT wrote: "In European cultures, we are locked into capital intense solutions due to shrinking populations."

    The willingness to use women in combat has added so many potential recruits that we will have in peacetime still too many.

    The solution is IMHO a mixture of mobile forces and "cheap" infantry more in a ratio found at the beginning of WWII.

    I do not see a threat by African forces, without competet mobile forces they are dead, and even "cheap" forcrs need industrial base and logistics.

    The more interesting question in Europe is IMHO whether we see widespread conscription in combination with militia approaches in 10-20 years again.


  4. There is a interesting similiarity between this thoughts and some of Richard Simpkin, as he too claimed that infantry and especially special forces would become the center point of the armed forces. Moreover there is imo no contradiction between them, there is no: firepower on one side and mass-infantry on the other side. To the opposite, the higher the numbers of infantry, the better one can also use the firepower (infantry as scouts). This infantry centric / firepower centric concept was the core of the rma thesis at its beginning. Also they are both interchangable. You can use infantry to controll ground and also firepower, both can be anvil and hammer.

    So an mass infantry army would increase the effectivnes of firepower. Therefore it would be an mistake to not use firepower but to invest in mass infantry instead of firepower. An army with much infantry and high firepower would sweep away an army with fewer firepoer but much more infantry. More infantry is therefore for sure a good thing, but should not replace firepower but stand aside to it.

    As you also mentioned drone armies are also an alternative. And i think that you as always underestimate the importance of the culture, the high anti-bellicism in europa and western societies and the growing unusability of armies in the western world. In your hubris humans are only at will manipulable willless slaves that you can push around in the area as you want. Your fantasies about the allmight of the state and how he can do with people like he wants is far away from reality.

    Our current social culture will not be so easy changed that an mass infantry army could be built. Also using foreigners from africa etc would not work at all, as moreover this has several other problems. Therefore drone armies are more an solution that fits to reality.

    More and more cheap drones could replace the mass infantry and would deliver at the same time the firepower. This removes the supposed contradiction between mass infantry and firepower as in one system both are realised.

    Moreover as our countries are highly industrialised this is again an advantage for us as the higher industrial production capacity will then be decisive (in contrast to the higher percentage of the population that will fight).

    With such an drone army even states like germany in which only a small percentage of all people living here would fight for this state / this country could wage war against more warlike and more numerous enemies.

    The industrial power which as first will develope an full drone army and in great parts autonomous will develope also an tremendous military advantage against other powers. I think china will go this way at first and western europa last.

  5. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this problem, largely from the perspective of neutral countries. I am not so concerned with airpower domination as this can be confronted by emerging, survivable systems, both missile and directed energy, to a large extent, particularly where manned aircraft, UCAVs and larger standoff munitions are concerned. All it requires is the will and the budget.

    Dispersed, highly reactive and accurate artillery is a two-way street. Counterbattery fire, in the accepted sense, may have become essentially impossible. Clearly things will change with AI/drones and potentially near omniscient surveillance and networked, intelligent targeting, but, in the short term, I think the way forward is to develop your own mobile, survivable artillery to place the enemy in the same predicament your own forces are in. If we are defending, the enemy will be fighting at several distinct disadvantages and will face a higher resupply burden over an ever greater distance. The infrastructure and procedures of resupply will open up vulnerabilities to those same artillery systems and it will be very hard to concentrate mass in the face of concentrated, accurate artillery fire delivering precision munitions. Massing effects in preference to massing platforms and men that deliver them can only achieve so much.

  6. Isn't this what happened in Desert Storm? The Iraqi Army had a lot of manpower and had recently come out of the Iran-Iraq War with a good amount of combat experience. They still got decisively defeated with minimal losses for Coalition forces. I don't see how just getting more infantry will actually work. We saw this again in Ukraine with Russian rocket attacks rendering entire Ukrainian battalions combat ineffective (Zelenopillya rocket attack). That's not even including the possibilities (probability) of cyber or electronic warfare severely degrading communications, logistics, command, and control assets. I'm not contesting that a large infantry reservist force wouldn't be a good thing to have, but it can not win by itself and more importantly, it is not politically viable for a lot of politicians.

    1. The infantry of the past 20 years worth of tactics experiments is more akin to long range LRRP/LRS/Fernspäher style troops than to WWI-esque trench troops.
      The Iraqis got clobbered in 1991 because they were using 1970's equipment with 1920's tactics (at best). They had especially missed the proliferation of thermal sights. Moreover, the ground offensive only began when the Iraqis were already withdrawing. It's hard to get a withdrawal right with hostile airpower bombing you at will in totally featureless terrain.