Short and long range infantry


Imagine we added just a few more features (such as a tripod, interfaces, laser beam widening lenses) and a bit of software to such a portable gadget. We could with a single device

  • launch anti-tank guided missiles using thermal camera head (Javelin, Spike)
  • launch anti-tank guided missiles using SACLOS (laser comm) or laser beamriding
  • launch anti-tank guided missiles using SAL guidance
  • launch anti-tank guided missiles using SACLOS (radio, wire or fibreoptic cable link)
  • launch various ManPADS (Piorun, Stinger, Mistral, maybe LMM Martlet)
  • launch "dumb" munitions with good accuracy to good ranges (600...1200 m) (similar to Panzerfaust 3-IT); thermobaric, high explosive, tandem HEAT, smoke
  • do battle damage reporting and other reporting (camera)
  • "see" enemy continuous laser emitters
  • do terrain surveillance out to about 2 km day and night
  • do forward observer tasks for mortar, artillery and close air support

And all this could be given to every infantry platoon as an easily man-portable (battery supply is the bigger headache than the item itself) asset under direct platoon leader control.

Should we do this?

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It's enticing, but I say "No".

The problem is the range. It has a range measured in kilometres, not in hundreds of metres. How do you site it? You site it with a long field of view, preferably over a wide angle. You place it at the edges of open terrain or on a high vantage point (high up in a building).

Those are not places where the rest of the infantry platoon should be at all. Infantrymen are the superior troops for close terrain, where fields of view are measured by tens or hundreds of metres. To leave a few men at some great vantage point to make good use of such a device while most of the platoon is in close terrain is nonsense. The platoon would often be torn apart and unified leadership would break down regularly. Such a multi tool CLU and close combat infantrymen do not belong together in one platoon.

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This device is an extreme example because of its range of several kilometres. There are several weapons that go well beyond the core range proficiency of infantry; 12.7 mm sniper rifles (also ~2 km on good days, 1 km on normal days), .338 magnum sniper rifles (easily 700 m), 7.62NATO machineguns on tripod (easily 600 m). Even a normal 6.8 or 7.62NATO rifle with a 4x scope reaches out to 600 m or more unless it's an inaccurate design.

Such weapons with ranges well beyond hand grenades, 5.56NATO small arms, rifle grenades and 30/40 m grenades luckily have one thing in common; their users (crews) don't need to participate in assaults (other than maybe 7.62NATO universal machinegun taken from tripod and used as "light" machinegun with bipod).

This lends itself well to dividing infantry into two types: Not light or mechanised, but short and long range.

The short range infantry would fight inside buildings, inside woodland and conduct assaults (including counterattacks in platoon strength).

The long range infantry would be sited for good field of view/field of fire. They would provide suppressive fires during the short range infantry's assaults. The different siting does not necessarily mean less changes of positions. They should change position after revealing themselves by shooting, while the short range infantry may not yet be in contact and thus remain hidden where it is.

So this is not about mobile and static infantry, it's about short ranges (and lines of sight) and long ranges (and lines of sight) infantry.

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Here are some hypothetical TO&E for infantry platoons:

short range infantry platoon

  • Platoon lead team (Plt leader, Assistant Plt leader, signaller, combat medic/assistant signaller
  • 4 sections (section leader, 2 automatic riflemen, 2 grenadiers with anti-BMP LAW)

long range infantry platoon

  • Platoon lead team (Plt leader, Assistant Plt leader, signaller, combat medic/assistant signaller
  • 2 or 3 MG sections (section leader, designated marksman .338magnum, machinegunner with 7.62NATO MMG,  rifleman/porter)
  • 1 or 2 missile sections (section leader, multitool (CLU) user, 4 riflemen/porters)

Brits/Canadians/Frenchmen can add a commando mortar to the platoon lead teams if they must. Chinese might want to add one of their 35 mm rifles to a MG section and expand it to 6 men, but I don't think such weapons are a must-have.

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These hypothetical platoons would be employed very differently. The long range infantry platoon would do forward observation, long field of view picket duty, suppressive fires from more than 300 m distance, anti-tank work and battlefield air defence work.

The short range platoon does what is more commonly associated with infantry tasks, without the extra weight, training demands and tactical complications of the longer-ranged weapons and tools. Their platoon leaders would still be authorised to request mortar HE fires and artillery smoke fires. The short range infantry platoon would do a lot more training with MBT and APC crews, while the long range infantry platoon would rather train against MBTs.

Finally, one remark inspired from Ukraine war footage; the long range infantry platoon places a greater equipment weights on its members, but it would still be suitable for older infantrymen than the typically optimum infantryman age of 18...35 years. I see a lot of Ukrainians in ATGM teams that look more like 40...50 than 20...30. Younger men are more aggressive (especially the unmarried ones, while the married ones are more stubborn defenders) according to WW2 experiences.

So this short range and long range infantry division could very well also be an age division (young and old), which is important for an army that depends on reservists.

related blog posts:














approximate usual effective ranges (ignoring hard body armour):

  • LMM Martlet: against low-flying helicopter and BTR/BMP targets maybe about 4000 m if a good-enough sensor is available
  • ManPADS: typically ceiling about 3500 m, diagonal distance more than 4000 m, field of view on ground doesn't matter much
  • anti-tank guided missiles (man-portable): 1800...4000 m with outlier ERYX (only 600 m range) (typical minimum ranges 50...200 m)
  • 12.7 mm sniper rifles: about 800 m, rare shots well beyond 1000 m
  • .338 magnum or similar sniper rifle: about 700 m, rare shots beyond 1000 m
  • computer-assisted unguided Panzerfaust and similar: 600...1200 m depending on munition
  • NLAW (predicted line of sight mode anti-tank missile): 800 m
  • .338 Magnum cartridge machinegun: about 700 m, harassing fires well over 1000 m
  • 7.62NATO machinegun on tripod: about 600 m, harassing fires well over 1000 m 
  • 7.62NATO designated marksman rifle: about 600 m
  • commando mortar: about 500...600 m (less in windy conditions) 
  • 5.56NATO machinegun on tripod: about 400 m
  • machinegun on bipod: about 400 m (bursts)
  • 7.62NATO battle rifle with iron sights: 300...400 m
  • 5.56NATO rifle with magnifying scope and either bipod or stable rest: about 400 m
  • assault rifle with no more than 1.5x magnifying scope, 5.56NATO carbines: about 300 m
  • unguided anti-tank weapons: 200...300 m (RPG rather 150 m with crosswind, first shot)
  • underbarrel or stand-alone 30 or 40 mm grenade launcher: about 150 m, harassing fires much farther
  • rifle grenade: about 100 m, rocket-assisted ones in calm air rather 150 m, harassing fires about 200 m
  • lightweight or stick hand grenade: 30...40 m
  • normal hand grenade: 20...30 m

Opinions about what's an "effective range" differ. It's usually a good tactic to hold fire down to about 2/3 of what I stated as effective range with carbines/rifles/machineguns. Certainly many people would claim longer effective ranges, but I'm confident to not be far off.




P.S.: We had something similar in the past, the heavy weapons companies of infantry battalions. Lots of heavy machineguns were in those, later also mortars. U.S.Army infantry platoons had IIRC two heavy machineguns separate from the squads in the 80's or 90's.



Defence policy layers

Defence policy (in the sense of providing security to your own nation against blockade/bombing/invasion, not in the sense of quasi-imperialistic meddling) can be separated into layers.

Here's an example:

  1. Foreign policy to create a safer world (by sanctioning aggressions, for example)
  2. Abstaining from starting or needlessly joining a war
  3. Forming or joining collective security treaties (defensive alliances)
  4. Deter aggressors
  5. Be able to defeat aggressors if deterrence fails
  6. Limit damage incurred in case of war

(Any blogger with a bit of visual design skill would now use one of those onion layer graphics to illustrate the concept.)

I'm fine with layers 1...5 and think that they were somewhat neglected.

#1 Hypocrisy kept us from sanctioning aggressions and microaggressions committed by friendly countries

#2 We needlessly joined the Afghanistan War, and needlessly send troops into many other countries that are irrelevant to our security.

#3 We are in NATO, but fail to emphasise the defensive nature of NATO (see Kosovo Air War 1999 and the frequent tolerated loudmouthing by NATO general secretaries)

#4 This works for NATO almost without effort, as there's no aggressor capable of taking even only on a fourth of our conventional forces without using nuclear warheads.

#5 See #4

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So, what's my issue with #6?

I think #6 is cost-inefficient. It's extremely unlikely that #1...#4 fail to keep us in peace. Resources spent on #6 are better-spent on #1 (sanctioning aggressors at some economic cost to yourself) and #4 (deterring war in the first place, instead of trying to make it less horrible).

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This blog post was triggered by news about political efforts for a missile defence in Central and Eastern Europe. That would be an extremely expensive endeavour, and by now we know that Russia has a) largely depleted its missile stocks and b) is too dumb to cause much damage with missiles.

Moreover, an aggressor would be tempted to launch many missiles with a strategic surprise, which means that such a defence system would be surprised and thus likely fail to live up to expectations.

To establish a very large area defence against cruise missiles (supersonic or stealthy) AND (quasi-)ballistic PGMs (different from cruise missiles by carrying the oxidiser for the propulsion rather than breathing air) AND hypersonic missiles (high & very fast-flying, typically air-breathing) and to stay ahead of threat munitions with all three defences would be extremely expensive. To just buy some American missiles and radars would not live up to expectations.

We need such strategic missile defences neither to deter nor to defeat. This is overreach, overspending, primitive and poorly thought-out feeding of arms industry big business.

It's yet again a primitive low effort thinking reaction, just as the primitive EUR 100 billion boost with which politicians who were too incompetent to do their job want to calm their security policy conscience in Germany.




A new wave in MBT designs


P.S:: Some additions I made on twitter:


The Western main battle tank development appears to mimic what the T-14 Armata already showed:

  • at least two crewmembers in the hull
  • main gun using autoloader
  • hard kill active protection system
  • lots and lots of electronics & optronics
  • really expensive
  • under 60 tons weight

A current reveal is the Abrams X with three man crew in the hull, autoloader, optionally manned turret (manual loader with poor ergonomics as backup for the autoloader).

The German KF 51 Panther demonstrator is a classic autoloader tank of three plus one optional mission specialist in the hull for the added gadgetry.

The inclusion of drones and loitering munitions in MBT designs looks like a fallback to 1920's thinking about tanks. The tank developers appear to think of a tank as a single vehicle, not as it being part of a company team-sized effort with brigade-level support.

The difference that appears to split the development paths in two is the question of whether the turret is permanently manned or not. A permanently manned turret receives MBT-ish protection, whereas an unmanned turret appears to receive IFV-ish protection. Permanently manned turret MBT concepts are less radical, and may be realised as retrofit of the post-1980 MBT generation.

A 125 mm HE or 105 mm HESH shot would likely mess up an optronics- and electronics-laden turret anyway. Likewise, 20...30 mm APDS or HE rapid rife or a few 30 mm AHEAD kinda-of-shrapnel rounds would shred much of the expensive equipment outside of the armour as well. It's thus understandable that unmanned turrets don't receive protection against 125 mm or even 152 mm APFSDS.

A question remains: Why should the crew in the hull be protected against the greatest threats when the vehicle can be immobilised by even 105 mm shots and firepower killed by anything from 30 mm upwards? Other troops on the battlefield do not get this level of protection. I don't quite see a reason for this.

The new MBT designs do not reveal any particular philosophy for tank actions to me. There's no emphasis on mountain warfare, no emphasis on extreme speed (= neglect of some other characteristics), no emphasis on affordability. The only thing that stands out at least from the German and Russian examples is a quest for even more powerful main guns. This reveals an idea of a MBT that's fighting other MBTs. This thought is very common, but at the same time very questionable. Rather few tanks were destroyed by other tanks in Ukraine. Various kinds of PGMs, 152/155 mm HE indirect fires and morale issues were the big tank killers as far as I can tell. Armoured spearhead actions would rather not face much opposition by tanks, either.

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I stick with my fairly recent opinion on protection schemes that permits getting a tank "light" enough (~40 tons) for bandtracks. It makes no sense to add effort for crew survival in face of MBT main gun shots on top of that; the tank crews would be a tiny portion of the exposed battlefield troops. It's OK to have a main gun that defeats MBTs, albeit it doesn't need to blow them up from any angle. To firepower kill the hostile tank suffices. A 120 mm L/44 gun looks satisfactory to me. A quick fire autoloader gun of 76...90 mm calibre coupled with anti-MBT HVMs would be very promising as well.

Either the hostile tank platoon surprises yours - then they will likely knock you out by hitting your weaker sides. Or your tank platoon surprises the enemy tank platoon - then you'd do the same, even with a gun that does not penetrate the forward 60° hull protection.

It makes no sense to clutter the turret roof. A single remotely controlled weapon station ranging from a 7.62x51mm MG3 to a 20x102 mm M621 (or at most a 30x113 mm autocannon) suffices. You may use a coaxial machinegun if the RCWS features an autocannon. I'd propose a 120 mm L/44 with a .338 RCWS. I'd insist on a bulletproofed RCWS, including the munition and its feed.

Finally, I don't like how expensive tanks become. They price themselves out of the battlefield. We may afford a couple hundred, but we would not afford the needed amount of spare parts for all the vulnerable optronics. The commander's independent gimballed sensor should be bulletproofed except in its field of view and have an unimpeded all-round view. This means that the Russian approach of mating the CITV and the RCWS in one (which saves the RCWS's sensors) is the way to go, as it prevents the RCWS from restricting the view of the CITV and cuts costs. The gunner doesn't need the same quality optronics. A plain optical sight for a turret-seated gunner and a second cheap (!!!) infantry-grade thermal vision (monocular) for up to 1000 m vehicle detection range should suffice. Most combat would happen in daylight, and the CITV is a powerful sight for aiming the main gun as well.

The all-round view should be aided by small and cheap (!!!) camera sets with visual and thermal vision. This would feed the "through armour" vision of the crew (especially the driver) and an automatic threat detection (incoming ATGM, drone, persons, vehicles) software could use these cameras to support the crew.

Another means of saving weight and costs could be to use a smaller powerpack. The hybrid approach with an electric motor-generator for peak power (acceleration) with some robust rechargeable batteries for it makes sense. The battery helps greatly with powering the electronics and the turret drive without running the engine (an infrared signature issue). The electric engine is extremely compact and peak power output is rarely required, so going for a "mild" hybrid makes a newly-developed powerpack smaller than an equivalent turbocharged diesel powerpack. The electric engine also counters the turbo lag issue. In the end, the concept has to have a certain power to weight ratio, and developers appear to aim at 30 hp/ton, while 20 hp/ton was widely regarded to be sufficient for a long time and frankly, I don't see why we need the extra 50% power. Yes, having that extra power is fine, but having 5% more tanks for the same budget instead is better. And that may actually be the choice to make.

So even with an intent to cut costs, I'd only

  • save some expenses for special hull armour
  • save the operating expenses associated with the extra hull armour weight (especially fuel)
  • save some costs on the RCWS sight
  • save some costs on the gunner's sights
  • certainly add small costs to the tank with my insistence on anti-drone sensors and acoustic sensors

That might reduce a 15 million Euro tank to a 12 million Euro tank, but the costs for buying AND OPERATING the new MBT generation would still be severe problems. Keep in mind that even the development of the Leopard 2 did cost about as much as 200 tanks. Full development of MBTs is in itself only going to be affordable if we have production runs for well over 500 vehicles.

I don't quite see a route how we could keep tanks tactically highly capable and at the same time affordable in quantity.

There are many alternatives to the use of MBTs in slow-moving combat, and I suppose we should embrace them. MBTs should be focused sharply on rapid spearhead actions by rather compact armoured battalion battlegroups. The current crop of MBT concepts does not appear to be aimed at this, and does not appear to be affordable for more general employment.



*: "affordable" is not about fiscal possibility. "affordable" means that the costs to benefits ratio is not much worse than for alternative approaches. Germany could buy hundreds of tanks that cost a hundred million Euro a piece, it would just be extremely wrong to do so.



About defensive lines


What's going on in Ukraine these days can be explained without talking much (or at all) about fancy new technology. A European army's infantry regiment commander of  WW2 would understand it easily.

So here's an attempt to illuminate some aspects:

Up to 1914 the idea of a prepared defensive line was that infantrymen did a long, straight trench and stand shoulder to shoulder, shooting with repeating rifles at frontally approaching enemy infantry.

By 1915 it was understood that this required too many infantrymen and they suffered too many losses. There were too many targets (infantrymen in the trenches, the trenches lacked overhead cover, a high explosive grenade exploding in a trench would hit many infantrymen because the trench was straight.

Machineguns economised on defender personnel and shooting not frontally, but near-parallel to the trench with frontal cover greatly lengthened the field of fire (own and hostile trenches were only about 200 m apart while machineguns were effective beyond 400 m) and reduced defender's losses.The downside was that the defenders in any position could not defend frontally, so they needed to trust and rely on comrades in other positions for protection. 

Now we are at a first problem for the Russians; the cohesion is marginal, the infantry training apparently poor (and on average getting worse) and they are simply not good comrades on average. So they cannot trust comrades in another position to protect them. They'd be forced to defend themselves 360°, which means less if any cover against bullets above trench level and thus higher losses.

On a larger scale there's a rule of three; typically two elements (platoons, companies, battalions, battlegroups) are forward in attack or defence and one is behind in reserve.

The reserve element's task during defence is to launch a quick counterattack to help out or replace one of the forward elements. The lower the level, the quicker the counterattack (quickest with platoon). 

Here are two more problems for the Russians; the morale and discipline as well as physical state of combat troops wild camping in woods low, so mustering a quick counterattack is difficult if not impossible. The other is that the front is very long, the invading combat troops not terribly many, so the Russian side can apparently not afford to keep such a large share of combat troops in reserve. No rapid counterattacks = no ability to hold ground against a peer opposing force.

It's even worse; the best defensive scheme (for such flatlands) of the First World War (and maybe since) was to have relatively weak forward positions so few of your troops are exposed much to sniping and accurate artillery fires. This forward line and the fight in the few kilometres behind would slow down the attackers, incur losses, create disorder. The attacker's advance would make his resupply and his communication more difficult. Finally, after maybe eight to ten kilometres of fighting withdrawal at most the defenders would use a well-prepared defensive line for a stiff defence and stop the offensive. Soon after reinforcements would arrive and the attackers would see little more opportunity to advance against the now reinforced defences.

The Russians' problem is that they live in a dictatorship. They have elections, but they cannot un-elect their president for real. Dictators tend to be mistrust their generals out of fear of coups. They promote loyalists over gifted commanders, and after a decade or two they are right in distrusting their generals' competence. This doesn't make the dictator more competent at land warfare tactics or operational art, but nobody dares telling them so. Such dictators often meddle in tactical decisions, and particularly typical is an order to defend locations without withdrawal. Stiff defence. Strengthen points so much they don't get lost - which is the opposite of the elastic defence I described beforehand. We saw in WW2 how this plays out; locations with names on a map such as a city get reinforced to avoid capture, the voids around them are not properly defended and the opposing forces can more easily encircle the named strongpoints (Stalingrad, Lyman...).

The Russian army is largely mechanised (DPR, LPR and VDV remnants not so much). In theory it's more configured for rapid and brutal offensive pushes than for positional defence. The ideal tactic for such an organisation would be (if they got other basics right) to mount a rather mobile defence: A string of pickets backed up by powerful and many mobile counterattack forces. Again, a dictator tends to order the opposite; mechanised forces dispersed along a long front line.

Dictators behave this way because they are a lot weaker and more insecure than people commonly assume. Dictators are perpetually trying to maintain a critical mass of (public) support (and avoid poisoned food). To lose battles or to lose terrain in battle (which is quite the same to the civilian public) chips away from their support and thus endangers the dictator. The land warfare tactics agnostic dictator thus orders the army to avoid such embarrassments and when it fails he tries to order defensive success by ordering to not yield any terrain (or a least not any named locations that his subjects can find on a map).

It's a common trope that supposedly much is new in a just ongoing war. That's at least what those say and write who have no clue about what happened in pats wars and why. People also get distracted by gadgets very easily, for there are photos of gadgets and manufacturers who promote them, but to understand the inner workings of an army or of a battle requires much study of war and military affairs.





Neglected tech (II): Megaphones

This is about the opposite of part I in some ways, and it should be a no-brainer because the tech is so cheap and simple.

Before you kill someone in battle, you could and often should ask him to surrender. The easiest way to do that is to have an acoustic device that extends the reach of your voice. You can also enter his radio network and just speak to him in there, but that won't be heard by the vast majority of hostile troops and may be impossible with some digital encrypted radios.

So whenever you lack surprise, just do something scary (tracked AFV noises, powerful bombardment, fire effects, suggest encirclement or imminent flank attack by noises, big blasts) and then proceed to ask for surrender. Wait a bit, rinse, repeat.*

I don't say that every infantryman should have a megaphone and not every tank should have a giant megaphone/loudspeaker. One per infantry platoon and one per tank company would likely suffice. The required effort would be minimal.

PsyOps campaigns could greatly assist such efforts.

Loudspeakers can and were used to simply demoralise hostile troops (typically infantry), even if that does not lead to desertions. Even as late as 1944 the German army ran a very successful propaganda campaign against the Red Army using among other things loudspeakers, and bagged many thousands of deserters.

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Megaphones and loudspeakers can also be used for one-way communication with friendly troops when shouting, radioing, arm signals, whistles, tracers and laser pointing are insufficient or unavailable means of communication.

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Megaphones and loudspeakers are also useful for interacting with civilians. Civilians may form an obstacle (such as a traffic jam by refugees) and military police or combat troops may need to disperse them. To use a loudspeaker is a much nicer way than guns and a much better one than mere shouting.

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Megaphones and loudspeakers might also be used for deception purposes, but I consider this potential as to be very small.

Long story short; give megaphones to all infantry platoons and MP cars/motorcycles as well as  loudspeakers to a fraction of the armoured vehicles on the battlefield. The effort (costs, mass, volume, power supply) is negligible compared to the utility.



 *: Not to be followed brainlessly, of course. Megaphones/loudspeakers make sense when there's not too much noise and your position to the nearby hostiles is known anyway.