2022/10/29

Short and long range infantry

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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:

/2009/07/infantry-combat-ranges.html

/2010/09/role-of-infantry-branch.html

/2010/07/on-infantry-small-unit-development.html

/2018/05/ultralightweight-infantry.html

/2017/06/self-discipline-and-light-weight.html

/2015/05/rma-infantry.html

/2011/11/sniping-history-theory.html

/2013/10/infantry-at-weapons.html

/2013/12/why-full-power-rifles-were-unnecessary.html

/2009/12/field-fortifications-angle-bastion.html

/2017/09/infantry-agility-past-and-present.html

/2009/05/addendum-electronics-for-small-units.html

 

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.

S O

defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

 

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.

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14 comments:

  1. The problem I see with this division is the fact that the same infantry platoon must both advance to contact (long range), assault (short range), defend (long range) and a multitude if other tasks with varying ranges. Youve got to have a mix at the company level - hence weapons platoons. Mech infantry doesn’t do those as they have their IFVs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The long-range platoon would still be about as able to assault as a normal American or German infantry platoon or a 1980's German infantry platoon (when we had G3 and MG3). The optimisation gain is rather with the more lightweight short-range platoon; it gets better at assaulting than our too heavy infantry is.

      A heavy weapons platoon at Coy level is a possibility, but 'ingenious' generals would cut such a platoon within 15 years when there's a budget crunch and return to mixed platoons.
      There's also the question how many platoons of what kind per Coy? We actually need more long-range than short-range platoons in some environments (agricultural areas, mountainous terrain), while long-range platoons would have almost no advantages in large woodland areas.

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    2. "There's also the question how many platoons of what kind per Coy? We actually need more long-range than short-range platoons in some environments..."

      Your long range platoon would make sense in units that usually plan to fight in open areas (Panzergrenadiere or simliar units). Why not use the optics by dismounted men in combination with IFVs as carriers of the actual weapons?

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  2. If you have the money and carrying capacity (vehicle), why not make regular infantry able to do both long- and short-range? For a given number of soldiers, this adds flexibility and overall ATGM capacity by reducing the number of specialized troops that can only do one or the other. The USAR Stryker platoon has 3 Javelin CLUs, one per squad. If needed, up to three fire teams can be detached to serve as ATGM teams. This gives the overall SBCT a whopping 81 Javelin launchers. That's a lot of anti-tank firepower. You simply couldn't have this many if you limited them only to weapons companies.

    I get that this means they may not always be optimally situated to make use of Javelin's max range, but Javelin can be used closer in too, and there just may not be many battlefield locations that are both operationally relevant and allow for max range engagements.

    I'd like to see an an enhanced CLU that had some of the features you mentioned. The ability to fire other munitions would be nice. Javelins are great, but they're also heavy, bulky and expensive. Having lighter and/or cheaper options for non-tank targets would allow units to carry more rounds and be more affordable overall.

    It doesn't seem like a big lift to add a datalink to the CLU and to Javelin to allow Spike LR-like fire-observe-update modes. The limiting factor on Javelin range appears to be the the seeker and CLU's acquisition range. Fire-observe-update might extend this. Spike LR2 lists a 5.5km max range with no apparent major changes to the missile itself. This also would allow less-than-perfectly-situated soldiers to engage targets at BLOS, perhaps with targeting from small drones.

    Lastly, with processing and software upgrades, the CLU might be able to automatically locate and track small drones within its FOV. The addition of a man-portable, small, anti-drone munition (MHTK or Pike variant?) could be highly relevant in the future.





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  3. The French army utilizes this even at the squad level. The two main elements of the infantry squad are the 300 m or Alpha Team armed with two AT-4s and the 600 m or Bravo Team armed with a Minimi SAW and a LGI F1 commando mortar in addition to their assault rifles and pistols.
    In addition, a DM is directly subordinated to the squad leader.

    What do you think of this concept?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s_rowtboNI

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose the section level is too low. Squad leaders are too burdened with this, while platoons should have two sufficiently-qualified leaders for complicated things. Note my short range infantry section was kept very simple.

      A platoon with two long range sections might have sufficient suppressive firepower to support as assault by one or two sections without tank support (at least in some places).
      I would not trust the suppressive effect of a single LMG and a few rifles if there's more than about ten windows to suppress, for example.

      Delete
    2. i think you just reinvented US army weapons squads lol (normally they carry 2 GPMGs, & 2 javelins, 1 per platoon alongside 3 with rifle squads)

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    3. The change is not an introduction of a long range section. It's the introduction of a consequently short-ranged (thus lighter and more agile) section.
      I argued against giving the infantry weapons for more than 300 or 400 m for a long time on weight grounds. This text is the acceptance that people cannot resist the temptations of greater range, thus the compromise of division of labour to get at least some sections agile.

      Delete
  4. This device needs a high observation point. Could it be mounted via a low observeability balloon?
    Won't it become standard equipment, because even short ranged troops want to know what is further away. While you have this division between long and short ranged in equipment, infantry will be transported and not walk most of the time, so they could change equipment to adapt to different roles, not necessitating much distinction.

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    Replies
    1. Balloons are needlessly big (easily visible) and too susceptible to wind. Tethered ducted rotorcraft are much better for such a purpose IMO, they can be used by cars moving 30 kph.
      Such drones would require good stabilisation and would have to be at least about 1 km away from known hostiles.
      That's a completely different set of technical eyes for an army than a CLU, with very different roles.

      Infantry trained for more tactical and equipment versatility = more training costs, more equipment costs per head. It's cheaper to specialise a bit. The necessary tactical mindsets are different anyway.

      Delete
  5. Your short ranged squad: no light machine gun?
    Has historically been useful even at short ranges.
    The anti BMP -LAW: does the classic LAW pack enough punch in case of ERA/NRA etc, even on rather thinly skinned vehicles? No grenade launchers?

    I'm not seeing much listed in terms of small drones.
    For city fights, small observation drones have proven crucial.
    Are those short range LAW's dual role 'anti building'?

    Adding a mortar to the long range unit seems sensible to have a cheap indirect fire capability.
    The units will still need some transports, and a way to deal with mines.

    Lastly: in ww2 the casualty rate was highest among infantry
    In a few modern conflicts, Nato fully outmatched the opposition and hunted down anything larger than a jeep.
    In a peer vs peer conflict, with drone surveillance increasing just a bit, I fear for the survival capability of any infantry near a frontline.
    If they survive, it will partially be because opponent doesn't consider then good targets for expensive munitions.


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    Replies
    1. What we (or Americans) call "automatic rifleman" today was a "light machinegunner" in many WW2 armies and in the Commonwealth armies till the 70's or so (Bren gun).

      M72 LAW can easily punch through a MP, almost only a few tradeshow concept car BMPs had serious ERA protection. The only issue would be hitting at 150...200 m and how well the fusing works on the upper glacis.
      I suppose a 50 mm HEAT would suffice against BMPs, but as things go there won't be much of a BMP threat any more by 2023.

      I'm no fan of grenade launchers. I think they're overrated. Their HEAT effect is puny, their blast effect is puny, their frag effect is puny, infantry seems to use grenade launchers 99% for noisemaking and 1% for the supposed uses. I think rifle grenades with a settable fuse (PDSQ/delay), bullet trap and enough frag effect on rear 300° to affect a normal-sized living room are a better choice as long as you can hit a normal window @ 50 m under comat stress with them.

      Short range infantry should be able to shoot through windows or blast open then shoot through doors from 50 m. Walls could be blown open for entry, but not from afar. You don't need more than that for them. The long range infantry could have thermobaric munitions to collapse certain buildings or parts thereof.

      Small observation drones may be used by either kind of platoon, but are still rather uncommon. I guess all but the smallest drones (which are still very expensive) will rather be Coy/Bn/de level assets.

      Military tech revolutions are usually not quite as extreme as believed early on. Submarines did not eliminate surface fleets. Air power did not replace armies or navies. Helicopters did not replace lorries much. Machineguns did not lead to an extinction of riflemen.

      Autonomous battle drones may become dominant, but they will complement armies as we know them.

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  6. Do you think more light calvarly/armored reconnaissance platoon could be allied with such force structure?

    I am thinking of mostly unarmored or armored up to standard infantry vehicule, or at most some IFV armored to resist 20 to maybe up to 50mm (to resist enemy IFV caliber).

    Considering the high cost of optics and detection electronics I am not sure how to rationalise their cost to improve the firepower at the best cost. Granted there is also a lack of rationalition of the defence industry too.

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  7. Kinda off the post, but something you might find interesting as it seems similar to something you've talked about before.. After the German retreat from Paris in September 1914, there was a confused scramble in Northern France and Belgium as both sides tried to establish a front line there. There was a British-French mobile force that operated there under the command of a Royal navy officer, Samson. The unit contained Royal Navy aircraft and armored cars (first time in warfare), French infantry, a French-Algerian light cavalry unit, and a battery of 75mm field guns. A description of their activities were that by boldly squirmishing with German forces along the French-Belgium border they kept them off balance, concealed how weak the Allied forces were in that area, and kept a link with the Belgium army that was isolated further north near Antwerp.

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