(Light) infantry today

Light infantry appears to have a strange fascination on military fanbois. It's almost the embodiment of playing soldier. No boring work in offices, no counting stuff for inventory list in a depot, no truck-driving, no car mechanic work, (almost)  no fiddling with 20 years-old electronics. Just camo uniform, guns, physical fitness, occasional exercises in fake villages and fake buildings, and of course - especially lately - weird vehicles. Snowmobiles, quads, 6-wheel ATVs - reminiscent of recreation almost.

such toys aren't really new

Light infantry was in high demand in Afghanistan because the supply lines were troublesome and there was simply no capacity to support mechanised forces, so it was about infantry, engineers, MRAPs with air support.

The Russo-Ukrainian War of failed Russian annexation expectations provided a reality check.
Sure, there are some videos of "special" forces using buggys or quads to infiltrate through the thin line of pickets and platoon dugouts that the Russians established to guard the frontline.

Almost all of the infantry had a very different experience, though. Mechanised infantry (riding in or on BMPs) is best to be reserved for mechanised actions, so other infantrymen should man the front-line.

Those infantrymen are also "light" infantrymen, and by all evidence that I saw they do not carry equipment like crazy, even bulletproof plate armour is very rarely used. They fight light (far from the overburdened mules known from Afghanistan patrols), 
but most often they do less glamorous and glorious things; they hide and more importantly, they build field fortifications and make them bearable to live in.
So digging, sawing, construction work, installing camouflage netting and observation duty in trenches appear to be about 80% of the skill set that infantry needs in this war.
Artillery and mortars cause about 80...90% of the casualties in such war scenarios. Some of the rest is caused by air power, accidents, tanks, dedicated anti-tank teams and snipers. The ordinary infantry man matters little as a fighter - tacticool gucci gear or no tacticool gucci gear. Mosin-Nagant rifle or HK416 matters for morale, but it matters little for physical results of a war.

Infantry is not much of a killing factor. To mobilise 300,000 men for infantry and to send them to the front-lines means more meat bags to keep the frontline from collapsing, but it means very little regarding how many casualties the other side will suffer.

Infantrymen are in modern conventional warfare similar to the pikemen of the 16th century field battle in Europe: They hardly ever harm anyone who didn't come close to them to attack them. The pikemen didn't do much of the killing; the musketeers, the arquebusiers and sometimes the artillerymen did that.

The supply of artillery munitions predicts how many casualties will be inflicted, albeit with diminishing returns.

The #1 quality of the regular infantryman is not "lethality" that Westerners like to obsess about (fanbois, industry and often even the armies or marine organisations). The #1 quality of the infantryman is to endure the threat of indirect fires and still accomplishing the mission of holding or (rarely) taking ground.

Modern non-mechanised infantry is 90% about Hodor and only 10% about Gimli.

Western armies should rediscover this old insight from the World Wars. The implications for resource allocation, training programs, TO&E and doctrine are huge.

P.S.: This does NOT mean that hard body armour is a good idea. Even most armoured vehicles don't reliably stop all fragments of a 152 mm HE shell at 50 m distance, but field fortifications do.
Furthermore, it's not enough to dig in. A platoon should have at least two well-built positions available, and the 'rear' one should be kept hidden. Fortified positions should become smaller down to pickets for four or five men 'far forward'. The idea has to be to have few exposed much so that many stand a better chance at hiding successfully. The field fortifications to be used to actually stop a well-executed determined push should not be known to the attackers before they come into line of sight contact.


  1. Does this mean that Germany has too little infantry to be effective?
    Can infantry in part be replaced by robotic systems?

    1. Germany has too few infantry battalions (even counting PzGren) to hold a wide front-line or for a battle in a city.
      We could still do mobile & agile mechanised warfare with our qty of infantry, but there are reasonable doubts about the technical readiness for this and about the readiness of our army officers for this (after 30 years little attention to it and no large real world exercises).

      Robots cannot replace much infantry yet, but some tasks (such as picket duty, sniping, heavy machinegun fires, forward observer) can be done remotely.

  2. Both sides have a fixation with holding ground after the Russian recreat from the North and that makes it so.Both sides also lack any skill on infiltration tactics and the usual stuff that is jagdkampf.
    So,Ukr inf is spread roughly on 3km frontage(twice the old Soviet regulations) while Ru inf was used only as a picket. After mobik arrival they got only more picketts.

    This is not a modern infantry.It is only a characteristic of this war . The lesson in it is you can create a holding force very quickly,but you need to deliberately create infantry cadre for anything else.

  3. A stable continuous front line is a compelling situation for both sides. This is a consequence of the inability of the Russians to conduct maneuver warfare. This is a victory for the Ukrainians. Victory achieved by light forces using appropriate tactics. However, this would not be possible without modern weapons such as the Javelin, digital communications and trained maneuver infantry teams - all of which are beyond the capabilities of the mobilized light infantry with the Mosin-Nagant rifle!
    Breaking the Russian maneuver offensive could have been done in other ways (NATO style) - anti-tank helicopters, air superiority, striker/boxer maneuver groups, spike NLOS and brimstone missiles, but Ukraine did not have that. Note that artillery played a small role in this initial stage!
    Now the front line and tactics resemble the first world war. However, it is a mistake to think that all that is needed is poorly trained and equipped infantrymen digging trenches in which to hide from the artillery. Just 2 examples.
    Remember what happened when coalition armored forces attacked well entrenched Iraqi troops in 1991. They crushed the Russian engineering masterpieces in hours.
    The second example is Russian assault infantry groups. They are hurried and poorly trained meat, but not at all poorly equipped. They use thermal imagers, advanced infantry weapons and are supported by automatic grenade launchers/mortars and drones.
    At all, if the Russians could use mechanized attacks, they would hardly use infantry attacks! If instead of t72 there was a Merkava 4/Abrams with active defense in combination with Namer, then maybe the offensive would look completely different!
    I am quite sure that a small number of trained, motivated troops with modern technology can make completely redundant a huge number hidden in the trenches mobilized with Mosin-Nagant rifle/Kalashnikov.
    Now in Ukraine, the war looks more like Iraq-Iran and less like the one from 1991!. The strategy is to change this in the direction of the second.

    1. Artillery played a huge, but underreported role in the first weeks.
      The West got full of itself and autosuggested that its few Javelins and NLAWs were the decisive factor. It was the Ukrainian 122/152 mm artillery.

      The Iraqis were already in a strategic withdrawal when Coalition land forces went on the offensive in 1991. There was no good reason to defend those trenches stubbornly.

  4. Very interesting post. Even the Ukraine war has degenerated into a trench warfare, artilleryfest, and urban assault thing is just because of the much less prepared Russian army capabilites (and corruption!) and the fact that Ukraine use a lot of conscripts and reservists and of course they want to protect their land, as this is a total land grabbing affair now. Mechanized and motorized infantry should be the norm.
    Maybe you can give your opinion about the Special Forces, in the West, that are not so special anymore as there is more and more units with budgets and special (super costly and only useful for them) matériel allocated to them so they are more a mini light infantry army or members of a big elite guard.

    1. https://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2010/09/glorified-cannibals.html