How to: Create an army from scratch


Some countries have armed forces that are FUBAR, with terrible cultural traditions and an inability to reform thoroughly. Some other countries lack armed forces. This is a beginner's guide on how to create an army (a new one) from scratch.

It's not terribly complicated at first, unless one makes it so. That's why guerilla armies can form.

The basis of a military is the transformation of personnel (let's call them "men" for brevity) from civilians to military personnel. This is about about acceptance of an authority framework, an adaption of expectations regarding comforts and a willingness to learn skills that are utterly irrelevant in the civilian world. 

Guerilla armies have their own ways, but regular armies use a combination of stick (conscription; threat of jailing) and carrot (pay especially for non-conscripts, retirement pay and medical care promises) to motivate men to undergo this transformation. So you need a budget to set up an army.

A build-up of a civilian bureaucracy to support the uniformed armed bureaucracy is a typical approach, but you don't necessarily need that initially. See how Russian mobiks equip themselves, even without having gotten vouchers or money from the government to do so. Let's face it; soldiers in NATO armies regularly wear boots and other items that were not provided by the bureaucracy as well. Few items require actual dedicated military procurement; night vision, secure radios, most weapons and munitions.

The training can be set up as a snowball system to some degree. A small group devises basic regulations using foreign regulations (especially the Americans are publishing great many (and low quality) field manuals, but also some other countries and in Germany you could buy the "Der Reibert" book that summarises many things a common soldier needs to know and more). This small group needs to know its own work well and becomes trainers to more recruits, the best of which get selected to become trainers (and possibly junior NCOs) as well. Junior NCO training gets devised again by a small author team using foreign source materials.

The idea is to create a very personnel-intensive defensive infantry battalion. Some natural leaders emerge and get a chance to prove themselves in leadership positions two and more levels above the basic level of hierarchy (officers).

Six defence-capable battalions form the basis for a brigade and its support troops. 

  • Three battalions get qualified further to infantry (including offensive actions capability)
  • One battalion gets qualified further to become an indirect fires (and their supply, closely related sensors) battalion.
  • One battalion gets qualified further to provide non-combat support (supply, drinkable water, medical, recovery & repair)
  • One battalion worth of troops gets converted into a training force, a brigade headquarter, military police, an officer pool for liaison duties, military intelligence, field manual writing teams, equipment testing & selection teams and more.

It should be possible to set up the first brigade from almost nothing within four years, and then to double the brigade count every two years.

Simplicity, modesty and self-discipline would be the most important virtues. You could see this in the hardware, which would ideally include

  • ruggedized and normal laptops all with the same operating system and USB-C interface
  • ruggedized tablet computers all with the same operating system and USB-C interface
  • one handheld radio and one vehicle & backpack radio of the same radio family (compatible with the laptop and usable as fibreoptic field telephone)
  • one type of portable electrical power generator
  • one low light vision system (firearm and helmet-mounted)
  • one thermal optic type (weapon-mounted)
  • civilian flare gun & pyrotechnics
  • one (day&night) spotter quadcopter
  • one type of (crew-)portable forward observer kit (thermal, E/O, LRF, canting sensors, multiple GNSS capable, USB-C interface)
  • one type of indirect fire gun (105 mm)
  • one machinegun type of identical calibre as the carbine/rifle
  • one guided missile to defeat MBTs (day&night capable)
  • one ManPADS
  • one carbine/rifle type
  • one light anti-tank munition
  • one type of 6x6/8x8 lorry in several versions but all with the same engine and tire size
  • use of civilian pallet and container standards
  • one 4wd car in several versions but all with the same engine and tire size
  • one demolitions explosive 'brick' with multiple interfaces for a fuse

Legal affairs, personnel affairs, many construction works, mil-only equipment & vehicle procurement, major vehicle repairs, major medical care, entrance tests (including medical & IQ) and much else could be left to civilians, either (pre-existing) government agencies or civilian contractors.

(c) Jantusla

I suppose I've by now sketched out enough how an extreme keep it simple, stupid! (KISS) + snowballing effort to build an army from scratch could work out. Other details would either simply not be part of such an army or be developed about the same way.

I suppose this blog post looks like total, accomplished idiocy to any army bureaucracy. Well, we have military history evidence that armed forces can be built from scratch (usually a lot less orderly than my description). We also have military history evidence that such rapidly built armed forces can be a match to long-time established armed bureaucracies. Such newcomers have some advantages and some disadvantages. They learn particularly well and rapidly by involvement in hot conflicts. Ukraine's volunteer forces in 2014/2015 and 2022 are examples just as the Waffen-SS, guerilla armies and (regarding the doubling of formations within two years) the German army 1934-1939.

Established armed bureaucracies also have advantages, but they also have disadvantages (such as red tape, bad legacies). It might be a good idea to reset entire armies, as many armed bureaucracies are FUBAR and more of a waste of public funds than superior to a new-built force.

This whole blog post was meant to stretch the horizon, make readers think themselves about the issue. Maybe it would help to have some more KISS in an army, maybe even only the threat of being disbanded in favour of a new-built force would have a healthy effect on our armed bureaucracies?

One thing is for certain; all armies claim to be competent when challenged, but military history called many such bluffs already.





  1. I think you're missing one of the point of your starting conditions:
    "Some countries have armed forces that are FUBAR, with terrible cultural traditions and an inability to reform thoroughly" - means that probably the civilian bureaucracy and the private citizens accept behavior that would see them jailed or ostracized in better-run countries.
    For example - false reports, especially to make self look good and putting up tile-breaking and fire jumping shows instead of actually training.
    I would suggest that much more steps be made:
    a. Stringently screen recruits for morals (i.e. they should be better than regular citizens and definitely not jailbirds). I think (but not sure) that those that grew up in small homogenous communities would be better suited.
    b. A test company - a I suppose that 5 moral officers and 15 sergeants can be found in any army
    c. The test company graduates are kept together (separate from the existing military) and become cadre for the test battalion.
    Only after the test battalion is stood up, the actual expansion can begin. It is vitally important that the corrupt practices of the existing military (whatever they are) be excluded from the New Model Army.

    Concerning equipment:
    Until we get to at least divisional size, with own maintenance centers we'll have to be based on civilian maintenance and supply, that means that we should not demand standardization at the expense of availability.

    1. That was covered in 2011, but the outgoing link there went dead.

    2. The importance of screening and segregating from existing corrupt formations cannot be overstated.

    3. I like your use of "New Model Army", reminds me of Cromwell and the dangers this poses to a parliamentary democracy.
      The French idea behind military parades was that the citizens inspect their military for which they pay. As you can see, it developed into something else, but the core idea of citizens inspecting the armed forces is good. There are reports on the military as a way of delegated inspecting, but the military does have a hand in doctoring them to their liking. It must be possible to make negative reports without the armed forces denying future cooperation. A military in a democracy must be thoroughly inspected by the public in order to work well. Regulating the public information access for this goal is of importance to keep the organization in shape.

    4. Actually the closest to the scenario would actually be Peter the Great’s Toy Army.
      Concerning civilian criticism - one of the best way to enable civilian criticism is civilian oversight coupled with the draft. It gives the politicians both a stake (their children will serve) and an inside view of the military.
      The possible downside is probably most critism will be from the POV of junior personnel.

  2. Why medical and IQ tests? If the current slavic scheisse slinging has shown anything, infantry should be the most expendable citizens of the country. Crayon eaters anyone? Or maybe separate them? High quality special forces super soldiers, alongside high quantity meat shield militia.

    1. Fellow citizens are not meat shields.
      Infantrymen with higher IQ have better odds of survival and are more effective.

    2. Coming from Germany I can see your POV. But in a diverse country like Russia or US, fellow citizens are absolutely, positively disposable. High IQ is best employed in running the economy or making weapons.

    3. The Russian system of classifying some citizens as "condoms", pumping them up with amphetamines and sending them to fight till death, works. They trade them for more gifted and better trained Ukrainians. It's not ethical from our point of view, but it's a successfully working and economical way to utilize a population.

    4. Zerging was almost never a good approach in actual warfare. It worked once for the Zulus, and that's about it.

      And government, that's us doing things together that best be done together. There's no exogeneous thing called "government" that gets to "utilize a population".

    5. In Russia a mafia rules and not the population. In some states There's a government lording over the population that has little to no say.

    6. >Zerging was almost never a good approach in actual warfare

      Korean war.

    7. That wasn't nearly as much zerging as anglophone sources pretend. The North Koreans were using infiltration tactics and initially in valleys some T-34s, too. The Chinese also used infiltration tactics and their only success was a counteroffensive against an unprepared force. Later on they were unable to achieve much of anything with their numbers.

    8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    9. The obvious solution to building/rebuilding an army from scratch is to outsource it. Your observations are good, but could be much improved.

      1) You screen and hire the best NCOs and *possibly* junior officers available from around the world and employ them as training cadre and the youngest fittest as the initial core of unit NCOs. This will dramatically speed up and improve your initial training, and stabilize your force. If your selection of recruits is good, you are well on your way to a competent force in the long-term.

      This based on a discussion I had years ago on how to build a crack light infantry unit along the lines of a USA Ranger Battalion (not so much pure light infantry now).

      2) You could also go full Gurkha rifles, Legion Etrangere, etc. - that works too.

      You need good initial recruits, or your force will flop once the foreign NCOs go away.


    10. To take NCOs from multiple foreign countries means to mix the doctrines and it requires a lot of foreign currency and likely a lot of foreign good will. Finally, it gives foreign intelligence agencies an opportunity to infiltrate your new army, which may lead to foreign-instigated military coups in the future.

    11. And the domestic troops need to be superior to foreign troops for obvious security and sovereignty reasons.

  3. Re: Zulus and Zerging:
    I strongly disagree on the notion of Zulus 'zerging'.
    1) culture in the area was to pelt from range to frighten enemy and cause enemy to flee. He who blinks first gets run down etc. Enter Zulu: a melee army. Get into melee range and fight from there.
    It's high disciplined shock combat.
    2) the buffalo horns: though rudimentary, the approach of attacking on 2 flank points at same time, shows again, a tactical mindset.
    3) a brutal regime; those fed into a slaughter were often from recently conquered tribes; any one hesitating of those would be executed.

    I think the best example for 'zerging' like video games is cross-border raids by militias vs civilians.
    And some religuous zealots.

    As for the forming of an army:
    Army will quickly need some somewhat sophisticated equipment. Tanks, artillery, aircraft,..
    The political 'caste' has to be robust enough to make lasting relations to import necessary equipment, and the support for it, and to not select overpriced lemons.