Friday, January 9, 2009

American Infantry needs to change

As a military buff I have greatly benefitted from the study of the Rhodesian bush war. Rather than get into the politics of it, which are horrendous and a black mark on Jimmy Carter and his ineptitude, the tactics and proficiency of the Rhodesian soldier is what we need in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not since the days of ww 2 have we really operated on a conventional model of warefare. Desert Storm might be the exception but very few regimes are willing to have their army slaughtered. So we come to guerilla warefare. Fighting teenagers with an AK moving like jackrabbits and seemingly overcoming and harassing full scale high tech warriors.

The Rhodesian Light infantry, Selous Scouts in particular and the RAR were seriously outnumbered. They relied not on body armour or million dollar gadgets but bush craft and mobility. Their fire force operations were fast , agile, and deadly. Armed with grenades a FN FAL or sometimes AK's they hunted down the terrorists by movement and cunning. Out fighting the guerilla by better guerilla warefare.

The Selous Scouts, the craftiest of all, even went so far as to operate as psuedo terrorists. Using the language weapons , etc of their enemy. They accounted for the highest proportion of kills by their hunting down and stalking of the enemy.

Today, the US is encumbered by 60-80 pounds of gear, more possibly if you run a SAW and operate in 12 man teams. Grouped together making open security patrols , shaking hands, they become sitting ducks. Their basically trying to fight and hunt on foot carrying another person around on their body. They are unable to fire and manuever against an enemy who fires, breaks and moves. They cant hunt.

We have tried to solve this by producing more armor for our troops. No Marine leaves the wire without helmet, flak jacket, front/back SAPI (Small Arms Protective Inserts) plates, side SAPI's, gloves and eye protection. All of this on top of the infantry man's already enormous load. The Personal Protective Gear (PPE) Marines wear, alone weighs about 40 pounds. His armaments and accessories add more weight to his load.
The average Marine Rifleman carries an M16, 180 rounds, 2 hand grenades, Night Vision Goggles (NVG's), PEQ2, ACOG, bayonet, and enough water to last the patrol, typically 1-1.5 gallons for a four hour patrol. The average Fire Team Leader carries all of this plus a M203 grenade launcher and 6-9 40mm grenades. A typical SAW gunner carries the M249 SAW, 400 rounds, a spare barrel (which he will never change), a Kabar knife, his NVG's, one set for his weapon & one set for his Kevlar, and water. A squad Radio Operator carries a rifleman's load plus a radio, sometimes two radios, and spare batteries. The Marine with an AT-4 or LAAW rocket carries the same as a rifleman plus his rocket. And distributed throughout the squad are pyrotechnics for signaling and Escalation of Force procedures. The average Marine's combat load is well over 60 pounds. An average squad radio operator's load is over 70 pounds. And the average SAW gunner carries over 80 pounds in gear. "

One of the principles in patrols is dont bunch up and cover as much ground as possible. How can you do that on a 4 hour patrol and hope to engage the hunt when your main issue is staying ready to move and drag around this stuff ?

The Rhodesians for years adapted to the elements by wearing lighter shoes, t=shirts and even shorts till the final year of the war. Just as flushing a section of brush when a group of hunters want to score a deer, they move at a skirmish line and push the target into the stop group. Its hard to run down a terr when you are loaded down. Hence, straight up fire fights are rare and we are being beaten by IED's.

What is the answer ?


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The Rhodesian soldier was a well-trained, disciplined soldier, Simon. He could adapt to circumstances and was never afraid to take the initiative. The South African soldier was likewise well-trained and disciplined. The wars these two armies engaged in were very different – whereas the Rhodesian solider fought primarily a counter-guerrilla war, the SA soldier fought primarily a COIN war. Towards the end, the SA soldier was fighting against overwhelming odds and faced Russian, Cuban and Angolan troops at the front and the destabilisation of the UK and USA governments behind the front. Rhodesia faced the same threats from the West.

The strategies and tactics of the two wars varied a lot but there were many similarities. Both armies were under international sanction. Both armies fought with limited equipment. Both armies used intelligence to the maximum. Both armies faced threats from both the West and the East Bloc. Both armies had to modify and adapt tactics to suit the environments they were fighting in.

Despite being heavily outnumbered and sanctioned, neither army lost the war on the battlefield. The wars were lost by the politicians who eventually buckled under pressure from the West (ironic isn’t it?)

Training and discipline breeds adaptability. Gadgets and firepower don’t.



TCO said...

It's true that the modern soldier/Marine grunt has a heavy load but the comparison to some of these SA units you reference is not an ideal comparison for a number of reasons. Mainly, that differnce includes the terrain in which the engagements took place but also tactics and capabilities of the adversary.

I suspect that had the Selous Scouts faced the IED threat that our troops see today they would have had much higher casualties or an increase in the amount of kit they wore to protective themselves. Its also a false comparison because kevlar body armor did was really not a realistic option for every soldier 30 years ago.

And to say kit such as body armor is unnecessary is a false argument as you an be sure that most troops want this level of personal protection and that humping that kind of gear while cumbersome is worth the effort as it is much more likely to save your life in a contact.

Furthermore to compare special forces units such as the Scouts to say the U.S. 3rd ID is not a relevant comparison. One is by design a small, highly mobile unit designed to hunt, engage and melt away. The other is at least half-mechanized and as such brings with it much lower level of battle space mobility. (Conversely if the 3rd ID needed to move 100 miles in a day they could do so whereas smaller lighter units could not take such a big 'step' if they were confined to foot power). If you compared our Force Recon Marines or the other SOCOM units you would find that they are much less encumbered by gear restrictions despite having the whole menu to choose from.

It is similar to saying that a football team should be made up of players who are the size of linemen or the size of cornerbacks. You need different players with different capabilities to win an entire war. To win specific battles you can often get away with less as it is dependent upon what your enemy brings to that fight on that day.

To fight and win a wide range of potential contingencies the U.S. has had to have a wide range of capabilities. The SA military had a much more narrow remit. They did not need, for example, to maintain a Navy capable of launching a Corps sized invasion of a country in Asia. Their foreign policy was localized to southern Africa and as such the likely fights they would be getting into was more predictable. They knew who their enemies were going to be and they built their forces specifically for that purpose, to great effect, as you have pointed out. I suspect that if the U.S. had the luxury of knowing our only enemy would ever be Mexico we could design a force structure specific to that task. Had we known 10 years ago that our ONLY fight would be of the counterinsurgency style we would have done a better job of preparing. But America has made a commitment to protect allies around the world and must maintain forces to deal with threats in those theaters with a different type of enemy.


Para Bellum said...

I concur. The US military soldier has become a static peace keeper and not a fast moving aggressor ala the Rhodesian or SADF soldiers.

I think they have limited ability to operate independently and are more concerned with the politics of containment than with the art of war.

Jake, I think the US military would do well to adopt a 32Bn style warfare in whatever terrain they operate in. This consists of highly mobile small forces with hardly any "heavy" support, but with enough leadership ability, accountability and small arms to really "screw the cat" when required, thereafter handing over to more highly armored, less mobile forces for policing actions and clean ups.

I think the political doctrine of war as practiced by the USA since Vietnam has basically emasculated the US soldiers ability to do what he has to. It is also of no help to have a camera in every grunts face. The military should enforce a prohibition as sometimes you really do need to burn the entire village and rape the goats and chickens to achieve the objective of war... Unconditional surrender or the complete destruction of your enemy.

I think the US soldier could be any bit as good as the soldiers mentioned above (the worlds finest) given his head and allowed to pursue his craft, but is hamstrung by "political" posturing extending into the pentagon.

simon said...

Thanks for the comments. Im not an expert by any means but as a student of modern warefare , I appreciate a good discussion. The whole IED thing does pose a problem as well as the urban terrain.

I made my comments after reading several articles regarding the weight the soldiers are carrying. I think no doubt that many soldiers have been saved by kevlar and other protective devices. I think that Im looking more towards a smaller highly mobile style that is a hunter force more than simple patrol. In a massive undertaking of policing, I suppose TCO has some great points.

Terrain plays a part as well as a philosophy. I am reading About Face by David Hackworth and his experiences in the vietnam war. How during his command in the 101 really changed the tide of VC activites in his AO. His tiger teams were mobile, often away from heavy support and wreaked havoc and fear.

This falls more in the domain of special ops. unfortunately, they are on a leash and unable to always do what they know they can get done because of political extensions into the military.

The tides of war change as the US's focus now becomes afghanistan where hopefully the lessons of 8 years of war will produce a force that will take initiative and truly root out in style and timeliness the people that need to be eliminated. Simon

TCO said...

Congrats on your son getting his butter bars. Ductus exemplo is the way to go.

You have not posted anything here for a while. Get off your duff and get some thoughts out into cyberspace!! LOL

My final comment on this and particularly in response to what Para Bellum is saying is that in the first place I agree. BUT, you guys have to keep in mind that the push toward 32Bn style ops is already done. 32 Bn is just that 'a battalion' and although in reality they were plussed up to somewhat like a regimental size the U.S. Marine Corps alone already has 8 regiments (what the Army calls brigades). And the core priciple on which Marines fight is within the MAGTF, the Marine Air Ground Task Force. It has a self contained ground and air (Lift and CAS) capability and is not reliant at all on any other branches of the service. It's war in a can, ready to go. The same basically exists within the Army with DIVISION (3X the sized of a brigade) sized elements such as the 82nd and 101st Airborne as well as some others. I have total respect for the old SADF but the difference in size and scale between the U.S. and SA forces is simply not relevant. The U.S. is fielding over 20 active Divisions these days and so to assume that you would make all of those troops 'special forces' is frankly silly. Do we need to be lighter, more mobile, less incumbered sure. But this has been the challenge of all fighting forces going back for centuries. U.S. military planners must account for conflict in both the near term (5 years) and long term (out to 50 years). They don't have the luxury of (to say nothing of the ability) being able to change the entire force structure to a light, mobile, infantry and SF based model. As soon as we do that then China will know that they can take Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, etc, etc. The forces fielded are (or at least they should be) must follow the political strategy of the country. As long as we have ambitions of being the world's policeman we need to maintain all kinds of police officers not just the kind who can run fast armed only with a spare magazine in their rear pocket.

simon said...

Thanks for your input. your points make alot of sense. Terrain and IED's have alot to do with it.

Ive been working alot so Its been hard to post. I have a lot of ideas that I'd like to post on but you guys are so advanced, I feel a little bashful to put up my comments. Thanks for posting on my blog. I truly enjoy yours.

Im proud of the new LT. We had some heart to heart conversations. He went thru that 'what the hell am I doing this for' phase.

Ill be back. Just knowing somebody looks at it makes me want to get busy !!

simon said...


Alan said...

Excellent site Simon. I read Eeben as well and enjoy your comments there also. I served with an SF Medic years ago who went to Rhodesia and lost both legs. His name was Nelson as I recall. Do you have any record of him by chance?

Groete, Alan

simon said...

Alan, thanks for reading. I'd have to look into it. There is an individual Im thinking of but I've got to do some research. This is a hard topic to research, the material is next to nothing. ill let you know if I find something.

Anonymous said...

Greetings, I served as an officer in the RLI in Rhodesia back then and have noted increasing interest in the aggressive mobility of the Helicopter and para driven Fire Force concept and the vehicle and limited chopper concept of Koevoet in then South West Africa (now Namibia). Both worked very well and were suited to the terrain in those countries and took the characteristics of the respective enemy soldiers into account. The key was, know your enemy, understand your terrain and then concentrate your forces at the right time. A sure fire winner. JMA