A militia for the 2020's (I)

The extreme increase in the costs of land warfare has been noted since the First World War when artillery consumed previously unheard-of amounts of munitions. Motorization and mechanisation added to the extreme costs. Motorization offered manpower savings especially in logistics, but mechanisation clearly increased the share of support personnel in an army.
The rise of transistors led to the introduction of radar-controlled air defences, battlefield radars, air defence missile and mass-produced anti-tank guided missiles. The first generation of ATGMs was still very cheap, but this ended with the 2nd generation (SACLOS) in the 1970's. Finally, the introduction of night vision goggles for common infantrymen and thermal sights for tanks (even two per tank; gunner and commander) led to electronics becoming a huge cost factor even for the steel beasts.
The great increase in the share of support personnel and the accompanying scarcity of actual combat troops with the corresponding lack of terrain control ability  was criticised repeatedly, but throughout the Cold War and post-Cold War period the promises of sophisticated gear and sophisticated force structures won almost all arguments.

The Ukraine War finally appears to show that we don't need the maximum possible to secure ourselves, and highly motivated light infantry appears to prove itself as effective at defending a country, even invaluable. 

This offers a chance to leap back to an old force structure as it was common before the age of blackpowder and during the 1930's and 1940's: A High/Low mix, in which sophisticated, expensively trained troops with expensive equipment and a large tactical repertoire comprise but a small part of the wartime strength. The vast majority of the defender's land forces would be less demanding; shorter and cheaper training, light equipment, high quality of equipment only for some critical functions (reliable secure radio communications, deterring hostile air power from flying low, scaring hostile main battle tank crews enough to make them less effective).

This way we could build an effective deterrence and defence with reasonable budgets.

I'll lay out a sketch of such a "light" force (this sounds better than "low end" or "budget" and is just as accurate). I choose the organisation of a militia (some countries would call it "national guard") that's separate from the active army. This separation is necessary, as an army in control of this militia would almost inevitably neglect it. Army bureaucracies favour peacetime strength over wartime strength - and thus systematically neglect reserves.

Such a militia would make sense in all of NATO and EU, albeit with some differences. The militias of frontier alliance members would be focused on their own terrain, with units knowing where exactly they would fight in times of war. The militias of more distant and safer countries would comprise a smaller share of the military age population and would be an important recruiting channel for the active army and air force in addition to the light land forces mission.

Personnel affairs

Personnel affairs and especially recruiting are the most important things about such a militia (2nd is training), and I shall lay these out first.

Frontier countries may use forced labour a.k.a. conscription, but this is not justifiable in other alliance members. You need to entice young men (and a few young women) into joining the militia, it has to be attractive:
  • the militia needs to be free from red tape
  • "no bullshit" on active duty such as pointless activities only meant to keep enlisted personnel busy
  • challenging training is more motivating, and will draw more recruits
  • basic training shall happen in comfortable seasons (April-October)
  • the pay has to be impressive-enough for 18 year olds: The pay from the basic service should afford a used car and equipping the first own apartment, it should pay for the start into adult life without parents.
  • no unsuitable cultural stuff; young men who choose this would not choose it for the privilege (which only serves to make the economics acceptable), they would choose it because of patriotism and a fascination with things military. The recruiting poster showing a man sprinting through the rain in full camo with rifle and helmet would appeal more to them than some rainbow colours-patterned recruitment video explaining that 'No, you don't need to cut your hair short for the militia and yes, makeup is fine as well.'
  • and finally, a special treat that might be incredibly powerful: All militia members gain a certain national privilege; they'll be exempt from unemployment insurance for life. What they pay into unemployment insurance and the co-pay of their employers will be handed back to them annually. They won't ever need an unemployment insurance, for they'll have a government job guarantee for 30 hrs/week at more than 100 % of minimum wage (maybe 150%) as their job safety net. They will feel the benefit of this "never unemployed" privilege until retirement, even after they passed military age (45 yrs).
Such a militia needs to be shielded against misuse by politicians. The only really secure shield that I can imagine is a constitutional article that limits the militia to national and allied territory and explicitly forbids it from moving beyond that with arms or uniforms, and even strips them of their combatant status beyond the alliance territory.

- - - - -

The mobilised strength depends on how many militia members actually show up fit for duty. It's reasonable to expect many to drop out due to health reasons. It's thus unrealistic to expect units or small units that were planned ahead of time. The units and small units would only exist as skeletons upon mobilisation and would need to be filled up with individuals. This means that a very limited quantity of job specialisations is highly advisable. "Keep it simple, stupid!" helps here as a maxim, as with most other things.

I do not see any reason for more than five military ranks in such a militia, and my later description of the organisation and doctrine will explain why. The five ranks can be summarised as
  • recruit (basic service incomplete)
  • enlisted (basic service complete) 
  • specialist (basic service complete + specialisation training)
  • team leader (basic service complete + leadership training)
  • platoon leader (team leaders choosing one of their own)
This can be further simplified by getting rid of ranks altogether and simply using a badge system in which someone achieving a qualification simply gets the corresponding badge. Thus a team leader of a ManPADS* team would have the badge for completion of basic service, a badge for completed leadership course and a badge for completing a ManPADS (simulator) training. Platoon leaders get a velcro badge handed at the meeting where the platoon leader is elected**. The position of platoon leader should rotate about weekly between team leader badgeholders during training periods.
The tactical doctrine will emphasise small unit actions, so the greatest sophistication would be a raid of one platoon with another platoon providing an anti-vehicle ambush along the withdrawal route to ease breaking contact with pursuers. This means that horizontal cooperation between platoon leaders who know each other is the maximum, no additional hierarchy above platoon level is really necessary.
Finally, a very distasteful issue: How would we be able to keep this from becoming a hotbed of brown sauce, especially in 'certain areas' where brown sauce is all-too common? I see little alternative to using an external agency to screen applicants and to check before all refresher trainings whether the militia members have become conspicuous in regard to extremism (either way). Anyone who has been identified as not or no more suitable would be kept out of the militia until actual defensive war.

*: man-portable air defence system, basically portable rockets that are dangerous to aircraft at up to almost 4,500 m altitude. 
**: I'm not kidding. This leader-by-election actually worked quite well among Western 18th century pirates.


  1. "I'm not kidding. This leader-by-election actually worked quite well among Western 18th century pirates."

    Look, if you want to sell this you would better use the republican Roman army as template, there the centurions were also elected by their platoon members. That sounds more "serious" than pirates. :-)))

    1. The pirates fit better becuase that was really leadership without being able to call on outside forces to help enforce decisions.
      A centurion would likely have been able to call outside support to discipline his century.

    2. You have a point. But there you assume very deep knowledge of your audience, in contrast, Roman army is considered organised and and an legal organisation. :-)

  2. " I choose the organisation of a militia (some countries would call it "national guard") that's separate from the active army. This separation is necessary, as an army in control of this militia would almost inevitably neglect it."

    Here I disagree: A militia that is shunned by the army and a militia which shuns the army is for Germany not useful. Our militia men are expected to serve in the army in wartime when the enemy does not reach Germany.

    It is IMHO a contradiction to use the appeal of fighting soldiers as recruitment tool for the militia candidates and then so say that they are not real soldiers. I want Bürger in Uniform who fight, that are soldiers and should be part of the army.

    I would think harder to offer the advantages of the militia for the regular army, i.e. they get more NCOs and company grade officers who serve for one year in the militai training units. For these NCOs and officers militia treining may be a positive experience when the recruits are more like the "July" draftees than their usual "April" (regular) draftees in the "non professional" Bundeswehr. :-)

    1. Think of it like a division between army and marines. Organisationally separate so the bigger service cannot ruin the smaller one by neglecting it.

      The Bundeswehr systematically neglects mobilised strengths and is as a peacetime bureaucracy instead obsessing about its peacetime organisation. A militia would be crap if we allowed the army to choose militia equipment and to choose the militia trainers.

    2. But a militia is not a Marine Corps but a Landwehr with all its issues.

    3. What issues specifically?
      I see none that would stand against an institutional separation.

    4. "What issues specifically? "

      1) Landwehr is the ugly sister of the army. If you allow a separate organisation with lower social prestige you kill good advertising and motivation.

      (The political aspect of the Prussian Landwehr is not reelevant for modern Germany.)

      2) In Germany these guys are expected to fill up depleted units of the army after 4 weeks of war, that works much better with soldiers instead of militia men - on both sides.

      3) Give NCOs and company officers of the army the chance to train (with) them.

      But again, one can test some aspects for cheap money.

    5. I strongly suppose this took care of your #2:
      "Such a militia needs to be shielded against misuse by politicians. The only really secure shield that I can imagine is a constitutional article that limits the militia to national and allied territory"

      The militia would not be individual reserve for the army, period. The militia members would need to volunteer for the army to join it. Being militia member satisfies conscription requirements. They could not be conscripted into the regular military.

      I don't mind #3; it's a no-brainer, as the militia sometimes needs the regular military as exercise opposing force anyway. They would also meet at shooting ranges, especially mortar training.

      About #1: I don't see this as lower prestige organisation. The militia would satisfy the 'manly' defence of the nation intent. The regular military with its red tape and more constricting discipline would not appeal to many to whom the militia would be appealing.

  3. Last Dingo:

    It is nearly to strange to read one own thoughts such perfectly articulated ! The best blog post of yours ever (as is the whole series !) I have written and discussed this very concept including the question of unemployment insurance / state jobs instead for years.

    In one Word: Perfect !

    One additional thought of mine since years: one could think to enable young people to serve in an exchange program in frontline states in their militia structures. Similar to a student exchange. In my opinion, something like that would be an interesting option to promote the integration of European countries as a whole, and more specifically in military matters, of course.

  4. Your idea seem reminescent of Seeckt's re-arnament plan for the German Army in the 1920- a relatively small elite striking force backed up by a National Militia. The part about keeping the militia separate from the Army-that sounds a lot like Ernst Roehm's plan for the SA.