Indirect command by ambition areas

.This blog post describes a radically different command technique from the perspective of the subordinate commander.

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Think of a jigsaw puzzle's backside.

Now mentally interpose this jigsaw pattern* onto a map of a country. That could be South Korea, Poland, Lithuania, or Romania, for example. Every single such tile of this now divided map is a couple kilometres wide and a couple kilometres high.

You're a commanding officer of an army unit or formation** in the area. Corps command issues you a super-simple set of orders: A list of six-digit codes. Each six digit code describes an area (four digits) and a level of ambition (two digits). Your computer or a member of your staff translates this onto your map and for the first time you see your area of responsibility.

You can see by the colouring (and two-digit codes) on your map that in the East you're supposed to delay strong opposing forces and hunt for weak opposing forces (counter-reconnaissance), in the West near a military engineering bridge you are supposed to decisively engage opposing forces and in the North where a motorway stretches from East to West you're supposed to report combat troops, but destroy the 'soft' support troops of opposing forces.
Your staff also learned about what other formations and independent units received orders for these tiles, and they're usually the same level of ambition for similar level (size) organisations. Another formation has an overlapping area of responsibility; most of it is to the South, but they share the responsibility to decisively engage in the West of your area of responsibility.
Your staff arranges a quick communication between you and the other formation's commander and you agree that in the case of a major westward incursion through your area of responsibility you'd decisively engage together, with your formation continuing its delaying action till the other formation attacks the attackers' flank or back, and then your formation commences a counterattack with less than 15 minutes lag.

There are no phase lines, no simplistic one-dimensional neighbouring unit relationships, no geographic objectives to reach. You need to decide on your priorities within the framework of the simple ambition mission by corps command. More importantly, you have the freedom and autonomy to act, and to act timely.

Corps command updates your area of responsibility and the ambition levels, and this is how it orchestrates dispersed forces in area and time.



 P.S.: The Kriegsmarine's naval map was conceptually similar. A submarine would be sent to a large square for patrol, and when shadowing a target convoy by radio it would use the code for a higher resolution (smaller) square to report its location.

The transition from one state to another would be a great challenge for the described command technique. Many different ways how to do this are imaginable, but I didn't write about even only a few options. The reason is that experimentation would have to evaluate different transition techniques, and possibly invent all-new ones. There might also be different transition techniques for hasty and deliberate transitions.

*: or a similar pattern that's more adapted to the terrain than mere hexagonal or chessboard

**: Company, Battalion, brigade, division - it doesn't matter now. 



The battlegroup gun

This blog post will argue for a multi-purpose, relatively short-ranged "battlegroup gun".

Army artillery was historically divided into siege artillery, fortress artillery, field (battle) artillery and regimental (infantry) guns.

The distinction between field artillery (later divisional artillery) and regimental or infantry guns (later battalion mortars) was driven by a need for long-range main effort artillery that dominates the battlefield on behalf of the army (or Napoleonic-era corps, later division) commander and some artillery that supports an infantry regiment (later battalion) on behalf of the the regimental (later battalion) commander.

The latter was required to be more mobile (lightweight) to keep up with an infantry advance and being too short-ranged for a higher level main effort weapon was an advantage rather than disadvantage.

I wrote a lot about this before, but decided to revisit the topic:



The German army neglects the battalion indirect fire support. We have very few 120 mm mortars in active use. 155 mm howitzers (also not exactly many) cannot cover all indirect fires needs, though. They would often be 15+ km away, and radio communication may be unreliable over such distances. Their 155 mm shell is fine for long ranges, but rather inefficient for fragmentation effect since the removal of cluster munitions from the arsenal. The original reasoning for the 150...155 mm calibre was to penetrate field fortification overhead covers, and post-WW2 it was a quite efficient calibre for bomblet cargo shells. Nowadays its only really relevant lethal munition is the high explosive shell, which covers a rather small area with effective fragmentation effect relative to its weight. 155 mm is also rather inefficient for illumination munitions, and those are regaining importance since infrared illumination shells can nowadays assist the troops' night vision goggles in overcast and new moon nights. (IR-Illum may be unnecessary due to an alternative, though.)

Another advantage of an organic fire support is the shorter time of flight. Arms manufacturers can create nice presentations claiming that their gold-plated 155 mm round can provide fire support to dispersed troops in a 80+ km radius, but those rounds might be in flight for well over a minute while organic howitzers might deliver effect with cheap rounds with about 10 seconds time of flight and their dispersion would be so small that guidance would be superfluous.

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Now let's think about the land face of war: I suppose we could think of a corps area as a very shallow fish pond. The corps HQ may draw neat brigade icons on the map, but the fish tank would actually have much smaller fish than that; battalion battlegroups*, likely further divided into often independently manoeuvring company-sized battlegroups. Some fish would rest, a few would move, and sometimes there's a flurry of activity and suddenly all of them move for a short time and shoot for an even shorter time.

There would be no "front line". The corps commander would be well-advised to rather give frames to the manoeuvre forces; a line which opposing forces shall not pass and a line which friendly forces shall not pass without explicit (per-)mission by him. Orders might also be focused on points; reach this point by a certain time. (I'll lay out another command technique approach in a later blog post.) The manoeuvre forces would have arrangements for cooperation and if needed hierarchical decision-making (between commanders of formations or units of the same level), but most decisions would be made by leaders on the spot. 

There's something remarkable about mobile warfare, and such land warfare would be a mix of hiding/resting an rapid movements/clashes. You don't really need great firepower ranges when you're highly mobile. There's no advantage to having your artillery far from your spearhead if this doesn't add to security - and it would not with a mobile battlegroup. Instead, the artillery might be tasked to help secure the less line-of-sight combat-capable elements of the battlegroup (munition vehicles, fuel vehicles, bridgelayers, electronic warfare vehicles, air defence vehicles and so on). Additionally, you could simply move some 10 km towards some bridge or helicopter forward operating base if you wish to shell it and are 10 km too far away for it.

The one reason to give a battlegroup long-ranged (~40 km) artillery could be to enable a massing of fires from multiple battlegroups in one fires mission on one target. This could make sense, but I suppose it's needlessly troublesome. This burdens the mobile battlegroups with the munitions required to support other battlegroups and the battlegroup artillery piece becomes a much bigger and thirstier (likely tracked) vehicle. The fires would be tell-tale signs giving away the bivouac site or forcing the battlegroup to keep its own artillery outside of its bivouac (and thus less secure).

I suppose the superior approach is to divide the brigade into up to four battalion battlegroups and one support group. The support group would provide centralised services and an umbrella of support (electronic warfare, area air defence, long-range artillery fires). This allows for the desirable massed fires out to 40 km, or with exotic munitions out to 80 km from the brigade supply group. 

Meanwhile, the battalion battlegroups could mirror this with their own split; multiple company battlegroups and one battalion support group which would include much less ambitious support (bandaging, two days worth of supplies carried, short range air defences, <20 km range artillery fires).

A use of the 105 mm calibre allows for artillery fires from wheeled vehicles**, which are well-suited for rapid movements with little fuel consumption, little fatigue and few maintenance needs.


(105 mm howitzer high explosive shells typically weigh 15 ...17 kg, 155 mm HE shells typically 42...44 kg. The difference in area covered with fragments is not nearly this great because fragments of a given useful size lose velocity rapidly. The greater quantity of fragments of a 155 mm HE shell can keep a good area density of fragments farther out, but it cannot magically sustain the energy of the identical fragments and their initial velocity is similar. Alternatively, it could go with fewer bigger fragments. The optimum design usually depends on what effect on impact is required. NATO prefers the 155 mm calibre mostly for more efficient use of personnel (a 155 mm gun requires about as much personnel as a 105 mm gun) and greater range. 150...155 m calibres were subjectively preferred over 105 mm during both world wars, but tables telling how many shells are needed for a given purpose (suppression or destruction) treat both calibres as substitutes and tend to show that you need less shell mass with 105 mm shells to do the job. Both 105 mm and 155 mm use the same one fuse per shell, and fuses add a substantial cost to the shell and explosive filler.)

The 105 mm calibre could effectively provide support with high explosive, multispectral smoke, (near-)infrared illumination and even a special fin-stabilized (slip ring***) mortar bomb for extremely close high angle fire missions (down to 400 m as 120 mm mortars can do, this requires 80° maximum elevation). They might also deliver precision guided munitions occasionally, particularly fin-stabilized ones with slip ring.

A 105 mm gun could even be used to launch guided subcalibre (such as naval 76 mm HE) projectiles at much higher velocities than the full calibre muzzle velocities, which in combination with 80° maximum elevation would offer an effective heavy anti air gun capability. This might be useful to destroy (or deter) at the very least flying observation drones without expending missiles that cost 1+ M € apiece on them.

Another option would be to use a 320° training ability of the turret (assuming a dead angle for low elevation shots caused by a hardened cab; so 360° training, but 40° not usable for lower register shots) for some auxiliary anti-armoured vehicles capability. Suddenly appearing armoured recce vehicles, IFVs and from some angles even MBTs could be defeated with tandem shaped charge (fin stabilized) rounds in fixed combustible shell cartridges.

This mirrors the multi-purpose potential of brigade-level artillery, especially the MRLs just as the battalion battlegroup-level support group mirrors the brigade-level support group.

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The objective that drove my reasoning might be obvious to the reader by now; the battlegroups should be as compact and agile and least be burdened with tasks as possible. They should thus be limited to line-of-sight combat troops and some essential support for the same, not with any further support tasks. We should leave as much of the fuel and munition carrying and consumption to the brigade support group.

The conventional answer would be to use 120 mm mortars, and I suppose that the much greater versatility of 105 mm SPGs with turret is obvious as an overwhelming advantage. Additionally the spin-stabilized 105 mm shell is just as deadly as a 120 mm mortar bomb, but has much less dispersion. Very flat shots out to maybe 2 km distance could normally be considered to have more dispersion in range than mortar shots, but electronic fusing based on counting the revolutions (the spin length being known, as it's defined by the barrel rifling) enables accurate fusing at a set distance. Very flat 105 mm shots would furthermore be much harder to detect for counter-mortar/counter-artillery radars than the always high angle mortar shots.****

So to summarize; I'm in favour of an army indirect fires triad:

  • battalion-level 105 mm turret SPG (multi-purpose) under battalion BG CO command and only in emergencies supporting other BGs
  • brigade-level 155 mm SPG (main effort firepower, low priority on multi-purpose) under brigade CO command and supporting beyond the brigade
  • brigade-level variable calibre MRL (multi-purpose) under brigade CO command, but also some external fire missions (mostly area air defence)

That being said, the German army (Heer) doesn't pursue such an approach. Its MRL force is diminished, having a marginal quantity of munitions (PGMs) in storage only. Its mortar force is close to non-existence. Our brigades lack organic 155 mm SPG fire support. This may be considered acceptable as long as there's divisional 155 mm SPG pool that could be parcelled out, but we have too little of that as well. As of Spring 2021 we had a total of four artillery battalions (155 mm SPG and 227 mm MRL) for a total of eight brigades (counting the German-French brigade as well). That's three arty Bn for seven German-only brigades. It appears it's more important (to the bureaucracy and politicians) to have almost 11% of our military personnel in the medical branch. That doesn't sound inflated at all, right?


P.S.: In the end, a mere look at the organisation and quantity of indirect fire support in the army suffices to declare our army leadership catastrophically inept, if not suspicious of being compromised by the FSB. This problem dates back for many years (1) (2). 

Disclosure: I have a weak spot for solutions that are modest, if not austere. This may have influenced my reasoning.

*: Up to 1,000 troops and 100 motor vehicles, led by a major or lieutenant colonel.

**: I would rather prefer 8x8 offroad logistical trucks as basis than smaller vehicles, as this minimizes the convoy size and quantity of needed drivers. /2014/08/the-dragoon-problem-lingers-on.html

***: Avoiding that the munition gets much of a spin from the barrel rifling, as much spin  renders fin-stabilization impossible. Fin stabilization allows 80° maximum elevation for indirect fires and it allows for much simpler 2D course corrections.  

****:  Counter-mortar/counter-artillery radars typically scan the horizon to detect shells, rockets or mortar bombs as soon as possible, during their ascent. Hills, woodland and buildings can create a dead angle in which these radar beams would not detect the ammunitions in flight. Mortar bombs with their apparently very reflective metal fins furthermore create a stronger echo than howitzer shells.

Edit: I may have been a bit too harsh on the Bundeswehr regarding mortars here. There are 120 mm mortar carriers (refurbished, but very slow M113 version)  in light infantry and mountain infantry battalions and towed (by 4x4 car) mortars in airborne battalions. It's still a very badly neglected arm.




The support group fractal (II)


There's an obvious downside to what I wrote in part one: The tethering of the manoeuvre units to the support group by a tether length defined by the support umbrella radius. This part will deal with multiple ways and reasons that mitigate this downside.


The geographic location of the support group is one mitigating factor; it's of course not stacked on one point, and a brigade support group would not be crowded into a 1x1 km field, either.

One way of mitigating the tether length issue is to split the support group or parts of it into two leapfrogging fractions. The supported area would then be 8-shaped.

Another one is to give the support group itself an onion-like layered shape, with some support assets farther out. The outer layer could consist of support assets with some degree of self-defence capability or greatest stealth, but in practice it would likely consist of those that attract fires; artillery and radio frequency emitters (radars, jammers). All of these need to shoot and scoot / emit and scoot, at least until opposing forces ability to pinpoint them have been degraded much. The outer layer would have quite some outer radius itself, which adds to the tether length.

Another option is to actually parcel out some of the support assets to the manoeuvre elements after all. This may actually be unavoidable if radio comms cannot be maintained with adequate reliability and bandwidth over long-enough distances for support from afar. To be competent at operating with support assets parcelled out traditionally is not admitting conceptual defeat; it's having a plan B in case plan A doesn't work, and this is a top necessity for military plans anyway. We haven't had a high end conventional land war in 75 years, so almost all novelties since then are more of less untested and might disappoint or even be outright unworkable.

The later parts will be titled differently, but I will lay out higher order effects of the fractal on the general concept for high end peer land warfare.

Next blog post: The battlegroup gun (related topic) and on August 7th there'll be another related blog post, deep outside the box military theory (command technique). The two blog posts 14th and 21st August will lay out a 'vision' about land warfare of the future (but before all-robot armies).


The support group fractal (I)


(Warning; full military theory/organisation nerd-wonkery ahead. I didn't even attempt to make it more readable with lots of symbol pictures. Either the topic fascinates you or it's just a boring wall of text.)

Fractals are never-ending patterns, the discovery of mathematical algorithms to create such images led to many psychedelic room decoration posters.

Mandel zoom 00 mandelbrot set

I'm going to propose a fractal for the organisation of ground forces in action; a recurring theme for tables of organisation and equipment, with almost clone-like similarity of reasoning at all levels.

First the basics, though.

Armies usually organise with a certain preferred span of command; one leader (and this HQ) is responsible for usually three, sometimes, two, four and rarely five subordinate manoeuvre units/formations. A typical pattern in German 20th century history was to have one leader commanding three manoeuvre units/formations and one heavier armed unit/formation. The heavier weapons component was typically mortars and heavy (tripod) machineguns for a heavy weapons company at battalion level, whereas the artillery regiment at divisional level had howitzers and maybe cannons. This division was in part about mobility; 120 mm mortars are not supposed to change position every time an infantry company proceeds from one village to the next. Heavy machineguns were often parcelled out to reinforce defensive positions, and sometimes such HMG units were tasked to defend a frontline section or area of their own, where a static defence was deemed to be promising. Artillery regiments were able to move their fires relatively quickly, and thus often considered to be the divisional commander's main effort weapon. 

There were quite a few proposals to deviate from such conventional patterns; an interesting one came from Uhle-Wettler, who proposed to give the commanding officer of a battalion a Verfügungszug. You could expect 3 x 3 infantry platoons in a triangular infantry battalion (3 companies, each 3 platoons). The Verfügungszug would have been a 10th infantry platoon under direct control of the battalion leader without any company command in between. There are many ways how such a 10th platoon could be used and misused, and the key here is to trust the Battalion leader to use it well. The concept is reminiscent of the personal bodyguards of elite soldiers used by commanders from antiquity till the medieval age.

I don't intend to enter the discussion about the optimal span of command / span of control (this time). My interest is now rather on the non-manoeuvre component.

Let's begin at the lowest level for this, the infantry platoon. There are many specialist tasks and equipments that might make sense in such a platoon, but not in its squads/sections:

  • platoon leader (junior officer) 
  • senior non-commissioned officer of the platoon (with platoon leader for advice)
  • combat medic with dedicated combat medic backpack
  • signaller with longest-range (backpack) radio tech in the platoon
  • anti-material rifle user (counter sniper / penetrating single shots marksman)
  • portable infantry gun user (think M4 Carl Gustaf)
  • commando mortar user (for IR Illum, multispectral smoke)
  • munition porter(s)
  • demolition engineer (with enough demolition equipment to blow up a small bridge or block a few roads quickly)
  • ESM specialist (radio and radar detection, direction finding, interception) with ~15 kg ESM backpack
  • ECM specialist (fuse, drone and comms jamming) with ~15 kg ECM backpack
  • ManPADS user
  • ATGM team(s)
  • CBRN specialist with portable CBRN detection sensors
  • joint fire support control specialist with tripod-mounted forward observer sensor

That's more than a squad/section in its own right, and some people would even add tripod machinegun teams to such a list.

There's not much of a case for an equivalent at the company level unless we take into account reality; no army combines all the bullet points above into the platoon level. So some (particularly the last couple bullet points) could instead be in a company-level support small unit.

The battalion level offers more 'opportunities' for combat support: a military intelligence team to make sense of the ESM readings and other reports as well as to coordinate radio usage and ECM, civilian interaction specialists, messengers, radio relay operators, air defence warning sensors and coordination, indirect fire support (such as with 120 mm mortars), fibre-optic guided missiles against helicopters and high value targets on the ground, various portable-sized flying drones, a sniper platoon, more medics, supply platoon for water and munitions, recovery vehicles and more.

Next, the brigade level offers more opportunities for a support group, and this is where I will lay out my 'philosophy' behind it a bit:

Think of umbrellas span up by the support group. The umbrella covers the area in a certain radius with its support. This radius depends a bit on circumstances, but also on technical limits. An area air defence umbrella would have a radius determined by the kinetics of its missiles (or line of sight by lasers) and the target speed, altitude and evasive abilities, for example. An ESM or ECM umbrella would in part be dependent on how good the vantage points are. Other support is not so much limited in radius, some examples would be taking over and handling prisoners of war, providing medical support and providing military intelligence support, HQ 'services'.

The support groups of all levels of organisation should have a 'support umbrella span' (effective support radius) that fits best to their level. A brigade does not need a commando mortar company, and an infantry platoon needs no area air defence battery.

I prefer to skip the divisional level, thus the next support group of interest is the corps-level support group. This would have its own level-typical support abilities, and this can include missiles (air defence and fixed ground target destruction) for hundreds of kilometres range, a long range scout regiment, an army rotary aviation regiment, an armoured reconnaissance / light cavalry / mounted raiders regiment, two logistics hubs and units that take over supplies from civilian logistics vehicles at said logistics hubs to move them forward to brigade drop-off points using military 8x8 vehicles.

The corps support group would be different in one way from the lower level support groups; the lower level ones would often hug one of the manoeuvre groups of its own level for security. The corps-level support group would instead be in a secured 'rear' area (behind a river, for example) where exhausted manoeuvre and scouting forces would rotate into to get some rest (12 hrs of sleep + maintenance/repairs and assimilating reservists and late-coming personnel to fill gaps).

This 'fractal' can be repeated in other kinds of units and formations, such as tank battalions, independent artillery regiments and so on. A particular advantage of the separation between manoeuvre elements and support elements as described might be lost in some instances, though: The manoeuvre elements become more handy, agile, stealthy when we cut off some support to make them smaller. The manoeuvre element commanding officers would not be burdened with security for and maintaining mobility of support elements. Sure, a battalion battlegroup commander would still have to care about his support group company, but the manoeuvre composite company leaders wouldn't be encumbered like this.

Let's look at the difference between parcelling out two 120 mm mortars (self propelled) to each manoeuvre composite company of a battalion battlegroup and keeping all 120 mm mortars in a separate support composite company:

The mortars with the manoeuvre forces (say, a tank platoon and an infantry platoon) would have more reliable radio links to the company leader, the munitions would fly for a few seconds less, a little less auxiliary charges would be needed and dispersion would be smaller. The advantages of keeping them in a support composite company would be most of all better security (less stressful for the crews), ability to shoot when the composite manoeuvre company is on the move and most importantly of all; the manoeuvre composite company leader doesn't need to think about them. There's no 120 mm SP vehicle stuck in a ditch that needs recovery. 120 mm munitions are no concern. The company convoy is much shorter. Different offroad abilities of the 120 mm SP vehicles wouldn't matter. He needs not be concerned with how to hide the SP mortars while still letting them have a useful field of fire. The company becomes less easily visible and audible. The shots and radio comms of the mortar teams don't attract artillery fires onto the company. It's a lot less of a mess for a leader who can now focus on the line of sight concerns and call on support without being concerned with most downsides of support.

Other support assets should be on their level and not distributed to a lower level simply because their support service is rather relevant in context to the area of operations rather than the organisational elements. Reconnaissance and surveillance should be a corps-wide activity, with manoeuvre forces merely doing security (pickets for bivouac, vanguard/rearguard/flank security on the move).

Last but not least I'd like to emphasize that this was (as mentioned) about the organisation of land forces in action; optimal administrative and training organisations are different and may indeed change over time depending on the peacetime activity.

The described fractal describes a common pattern, a theme for how to provide level-suitable support without unduly burdening manoeuvre elements of the same level. I consider this highly advisable to reach the levels of agility, stealth and bearable burden on manoeuvre element leadership that are necessary to cope with the modern high end conventional warfare environment.







*: Some of these things are present in sections of certain armies. These details are peripheral to the real message here, and I insist anyway.


P.S.: In case you have questions or doubt the relevance of this; blog posts are scheduled for up to August 21 that build on this text, and the relevance of the concept will become visible.



Link dump July 2021

First some good news; I have blog posts done and scheduled till end of August, so there should be no Defence and Freedom blackout Saturdays for a while.

And now to the assorted links and bits of the month:



This is the explainer for it:


So basically, this is highly ritualized warfare, on exactly the same level as ritualized Hoplite warfare. Except that the ancient Greeks fought over arable land, not useless rocks and ice-cold water.

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The French amphibious vehicle / pontoon bridging solution (there are few suppliers in NATO, I think only three):


(see video at bottom there)

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Out of the EU and still causing trouble in Europe.

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The video is almost a year old and shows little but that they integrated their 130 mm design into a tank turret and test fired it. This flew totally under my radar for nearly 11 months. I suppose this means I'm officially no tank nerd.

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[German] augengeradeaus.net/2021/06/bundeswehr-hat-afghanistan-verlassen-deutscher-einsatz-am-hindukusch-endet-nach-fast-20-jahren/

Finally. Now get the fuck out of Mali and all the other non-NATO and non-EU areas as well and focus on actual deterrence and defence!

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[German] www.kontextwochenzeitung.de/wirtschaft/533/trumpscher-wahlkampf-7556.html

[German] www.merkur-zeitschrift.de/2021/06/14/gegen-die-luegen/

Conservatives and right wingers all over the world have little to nothing to offer in terms of policies that actually improve the most voters' lives. They hardly talk about policies; they talk how evil and dangerous their enemies are; hatemongering and fearmongering. The actual conservatives also talk about how there is supposedly no alternative to their inaction.

They have to run smear campaigns based on fear and hate because that's all they got besides making the rich richer and enriching themselves. The difference is merely the intensity.

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[German] www.dwdl.de/magazin/83296/wie_kritische_medien_in_oesterreich_unter_druck_geraten/

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[German] www.deutschlandfunk.de/problem-false-balance-journalisten-sollen-einordnen.2907.de.html?dram:article_id=498526