Theory of conventional land warfare at low force density again

There's a thing that you must not neglect when weaker and on the defence, even if this means neglecting everything else; reconnaissance and surveillance. The less assets you have, the more crucial it is to know how best to use them, and when to extract them from a crisis situation. You need knowledge about the enemy more than ever.

It's quite the same at low force density (few troops in a large region); some small element may encounter a superior hostile element any time because troops are not evenly dispersed. Local inferiority emphasises the importance of knowledge about the enemy. It's essential to avoid superior forces (or to delay them) and it's essential to extract a weaker element in a situation of impending doom.

The other ingredient is artillery, since it potentially covers a large area (or frontage) with its fires and is the quickest reinforcement for a locally inferior force.

General Otis, who had lived on that terrain, was also concerned about the ability of the two weak brigades to hold or even to cover 20 kilometres of ground. General Balck countered by saying that he would rely heavily an artillery in this sector.

There's still no major arms racing despite heavy mechanised forces and artillery have become fashionable in European NATO again. War scenarios for the defence of NATO (= what matters for conventional deterrence) are still showing a lower force density than the Cold War's Central European scenarios where a mere 26 NATO divisions faced a superior quantity of WP divisions on a roughly 1,000 km wide front for the first week. One brigade per 10-15 km frontage was a thin 'line', nowadays it's not unreasonable to expect temporary gaps as wide a a hundred km between brigades.

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This should lead to a preference for scouting/skirmishing and artillery forces for "first two weeks of conflict" NATO ground forces in my opinion.

Instead, we see indications that more tank battalions and more artillery battalions will be raised in Germany after there was a perceived need to raise more infantry (Jäger) battalions during the Afghanistan occupation years. I have no knowledge of accurate plans (and doubt there are such plans yet), but there seems to be a neglect of scouting.

I write "scouting" for a reason; "observation" is not neglected. There are fine observation vehicles and (old) battlefield radars in use. Maybe the long range recon patrols (Fernspäher) should be more numerous (and accordingly less "special"), but overall surveillance and observation have gotten a lot attention post-Cold War. Technological progress was happening, and it was fashionable to exploit it (long range thermal cameras mostly).
It's the scouting part that's missing. Germany gave up the Luchs 8x8 vehicle years ago (out of service since 2009). It was quite silent, but its concept was stuck in the 1930's**. Nowadays we'd need something with a better gun, with better sensors, much smaller and with 360° camera coverage instead of a second driver for driving backwards. Sadly, there's no such vehicle available off-the-shelf that doesn't have the drawback of a too high ground pressure. It seems that either the expectations for the armament or the expectation for smallness won't be met. We have a choice between something Panhard VBL-like*** with a light armament (no more than a 20 mm gun such as the M621) and something as big as the Panhard SPHINX****.

It doesn't quite seem as if the doctrinal mistake of giving up scouting and focusing on surveillance & observation is going to be corrected in Germany and several other European countries (obviously excluding France) any time soon. The fashionable status of conventional land forces for deterrence should have led to more attention on scouting, but it doesn't seem so.

This may be because of the hopes on aerial drones as eyes in the sky. Aerial drones will not deliver persistent surveillance over a European battlefield, though. Much less will they be able to do true scouting here in the 2020's. They won't look into garages and sheds, under bridges, into buildings, talk to civilians, judge the state of foliage-covered forestry roads et cetera. This may become feasible in the long term (2030+), but that's a mere possibility and the gap is real. We shouldn't need to parcel out main battle tank trios for (noisy!) scouting while we have but a couple hundred of those.

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This was so far mostly about "economy of force"; the weak forces that avert disaster in most places with as few assets as possible so the Schwerpunkt actions can be as powerful (irresistible) as possible.

I'd like to add that this temporal parallelism is not necessary, and at times not even advisable. We should strive to shape the battlefield in our favour before seeking a battle***** - battles should be decided ahead by preparations, not during the battle itself. This means that the conceptual and doctrinal Schwerpunkt should be on those forces that shape the battlefield in our favour. Scouting and skirmishing forces attached to corps or theatre command may do this by reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance and interdiction of supply flows.

We should pay more attention to such scouting, skirmishing and raiding forces. MBT battalions represent a brute force approach that befit the targets of a strategic surprise attack much less.

one more link to a related post:


*: Attack helicopters were believed to be very quick reaction forces during the 1970's (Brossolet et al) under the impression of experiments which yielded an exaggerated estimate of attack helicopters' lethality against tanks and before army officers began to understand how easy it had become for fighters to kill helicopters even at treetop altitudes. Helicopters are slower than artillery anyway; Artillery may intervene in a 4 minute skirmish 30 km away, while helicopters would arrive several minutes late.
**: Daimler Benz had a prototype 8x8 of such a concept in 1927 and the Büssig-NAG Sd.Kfz 231 of 1937 was almost identical to the Bundeswehr's Luchs in its concept.
***: SPHINX  and many other scout cars neglect the ability to comfortably and quickly dismount one scout to inspect buildings, climb to a better vantage point, look under a bridge and so on.
****: Germany could  upgun its Fennek, but its ground pressure is too high for soft soils without a substantial armament already. There are plenty soft soils in Eastern Europe, even in summer.
*****: I reject the inflationary use of the word "battle" for just about every firefight. I don't count anything smaller than a contact with more than a thousand dead as a "battle". Anything smaller is a "skirmish" (Scharmützel) at most.


  1. The Russians are already very good at anti-UAV warfare and electronic warfare. Can we substitute UAVs for scouting, then? It seems highly unlikely.

    1. That's so far mostly about disrupting radio links. It doesn't keep drones from searching, detecting, returning and reporting.

    2. There is already at least one serially produced Russian anti-drone gun. http://antikopter.ru/perenosnoy-kompleks-elektromagnitnogo-i-optiko-elektronnogo-podavleniya-bespilotnykh-letatelnykh-apparatov-grazhdanskogo-naznacheniya-pkp-bpla

    3. That's one of those directional radio and SatNav jammers. A drone with inertial navigation chips and autopilot would continue its mission in face of such countermeasures.

      There's not going to be the one countermeasure anyway. Bird-like drones require different tools (shotguns and other small arms, nets, maybe small fighter drones) than larger drones meant for maybe 1,000 m altitude. Drones with low radar observability that fly above ManPADS ceilings would require yet another set of countermeasures.
      To jam radio or SatNav would reduce the repertoire of military drones, but not defeat any but the most stupidly designed ones.

  2. Finnish battalions and brigades can conduct far reaching recon and surveillance. Battalion has recon platoon and brigade recon company. Their vehicle is dependant on the mother unit but all are capable of dismounted recon. Also all FO squads can be used and there are FO batteries that are speficially used for surveillance of large areas that otherwise would be empty of troops.

    1. I laid out in the second last link of this post why organic scout organisation is stupid.


    2. I see your point and disagree. I know you favour crosstraining and using infantry for recon. Such missions can last for days and any personnel allotted to such mission will hamper platoons/companies ability to operate during that period. Jaeger companies in Finland have organic recon squad and all platoons conduct close recon related to companies need for information. Having recon platoon HQ joined with battalion HQ enables fast processing of the intelligence and decision making. Having jaeger companies conduct recon that isn't possible.

    3. In that context I would rather expect LRRP teams of 5-6 to conduct the recce and surveillance.

    4. All finnish recon platoons and companies (excluding those of armored battlegroups and Karelia Jaegerbrigade that uses CV90s and Leo2s) are essentially LRRPs even though they're not called that. The Border guard and Border jaeger companies carry the legacy of WW2 "kaukopartio", direct translation long distance patrol. Finnish recon team is 12-man strong and can therefore cover pretty large area.

    5. Regardless of how the small units look, I made my case at the other blog post that the need for recce troops correlates with terrain, not with manoeuvre forces in the terrain. The recce troops should thus be Corps assets, not subordinated to manoeuvre elements like companies or battalions.

      Another reason is that uneven casualty rates among the recce troops of different manoeuvre elements would be a huge problem, whereas recce troops of a corps could simply readjust how fine their recce net in this or that place is to compensate for losses.

    6. Since finnish terrain is very similar everywhere it makes sense to make recon units similar. Border troops belong to Army Corps or Military Districts in wartime so they're the Corps recon element you've been talking about and we have recon troops at all levels from company to Defence Forces HQ. Most finnish battlegroups are very static as a whole but maneuver a lot within battalion's AO. We have only a handful of battlegroups and two brigades that qualify as maneuver force. Having capable recon troops at all levels enables commanders to use their subordinates recon troops for their own missions which can counteract attrition to some degree.

  3. >> I have no knowledge of accurate plans (and doubt >>>there are such plans yet), but there seems to be a >>neglect of scouting.>>>

    There was a Frontal 21 report not long ago in which the new plans for the structure of the German Heer were detailed and some plans leaked.


    >>>We have a choice between something Panhard >>>VBL-like*** with a light armament (no more than a 20 mm gun such as the M621) and something as big as the >>Panhard SPHINX****.>>>

    In my opinion a new RECCE Version of the LAV-25 would be a very low priced and advantegous option. To lower ground pressure one can use a tracks over wheels equipment like the one recently developed from STK (Singapur) which would lead to a kind of halftrack for difficult terrain. Moreover it is amphibious and could be air-dropped.

    For armament i would not put heavy conventional machine cannons in a turrett on such a vehicle. With a recoilless machine cannon like the RMK-35 such a vehicle would have enormous firepower in comparison to weight and size.

    And for the sensor phalanx one could easily use existing systems which are delivered actually for example for the canadian (LAV 6.0) or the Australian Army (LAND400). The named sensor suites would also fit in an LAV-25.

    Such a solution would not be off the shelf, but all the named systems are fielded and can be bought on the spot and the LAV-25 as the basic plattform is fully developed and combat proven and very cheap.

    1. This wasn't about hardware, it was about doctrine and priorities.

      The part about VBL and SPHINX was merely hinting that there would be trade-offs, which again would need to be answered by a doctrinal choice.
      Something like SPHINX would be much more combat-oriented, while something like VBL would be rather small and more numerous, but individually much less combat-capable.

  4. If i may ask a question in this context? In other posts of yours you suggest a light mechanised scouting regiment with many (independent) companies which then can raid deep into the territory through the gaps.

    Why not size this even up from the concept and create complete brigades of such troops ? So all this scouting/raiding/light mechanised forces would be concentradet in such a brigade? This kind of troops would also be very flexible and usable troops in many ways, also in "colonial" / "expenditonary" warfare.

    In such a compact brigade such Scouting Troops could very easy also have organic lightweight artillery (for example ARCHER), air-defence which can also be used for anti-tank (Multi Mission Launcher) and ECM/ECCM abilities and the can diverse for infiltrating and then raiding deep into the room, and then fast concentrate for combat and because of the bigger size and more abilities in the TOE such a Scouting Brigade would have much more fighting power and could therefore achieve much more damage.

    Instead of a regiment i would suggest a brigade of such troops, organised then in bataillons and with some organic light infantry and light mechanised pioneers in it. What would you think about that ?

    1. There's an overlap between regiment and brigade, though I think "brigade" signals a combined arms formation while regiment usually doesn't (and sometimes a "regiment" is merely a big battalion).

      The Americans had the armored cavalry regiment which was very weak on infantry and meant as a screening force. It's not quite what I am thinking of, though. An ACR would be mis-used as a tank brigade because it's too similar to one.

      Regarding organic arty and air defence in skirmisher/raiding forces; think this
      on scout tanks/cars (scouting tanks additionally HVMs) plus a few specialised and longer-ranged assets in support platoons that hide and don't scout themselves.

      The skirmisher companies could be combined with a light infantry/ranger battalion to provide direct fire, AT, indirect fires and air defence to said light infantry. There would even be a few APCs.
      So in case the scenario does not befit skirmishing/raiding or the doctrine fails in general there's still a combined arms use for these forces.

      Your concept is what the Americans had in ACRs, and would lead to what they meant to do with ACRs. It would particularly lead to thinking in terms of battalion battlegroups, not in autonomous companies.
      You won't so easily encircle a deployed opposing forces' brigade if you don't break your forces down into companies as units of manoeuvre. To cut off four possible routes would require four battalion battlegroups - more forces than the encircled brigade itself. It's much more efficient if you can do so with four or up to eight companies.

    2. I meant a combined arms formation, thats the reason why i wrote about a scouting brigade. Of cause such an unit could be used as an (fast and light) tank brigade, but this does not mean, that it is used in this way always and under every circumstances, to the opposite: that you can use it this way additionaly i would not see as an disadvantage, but an advantage. It gives this unit more flexibility and more options. And especillay the size to sustain and fight on after losses. That you have more and more differen troops under your disposal does not mean, that you cannot send forward autonomous scouting companies. You could even design them from the start as autonmous companies withhin the brigade and therefore spare logistic/supply/maintaince troops so this kind of brigade would become even slighter and therefore faster.

      What i am talking about is a brigade with autonomous scouting companies and additional more striking power, especially nlos firepower in form of true (and light and fast) artillery and independent tank-hunting companies, pionieers and so on.

      So such a brigade would not send four bataillon battlegroups to cut of four routes, but indipendent companies and can then assist this companies with its own strong nlos firepower, can assist them in difficult terrain with its own pioniers and so on.

      That you have an brigade an bataillons does not mean that you have to use bataillon battlegroups. You can split such an bataillon as easily like an regiment.

      And if you use the units not this way, the unit as a whole then has much more combined arms fighting power, which i would regard as an advantage, especilly because you must not use other units firepower in this case to strengthen it or have to presume it to other units.

      Moreover such strong and organic firepower would give the said companies much more defence against enemy counter-attacks and much more destroying power in the rear areas of the enemy and in cases of combat by opportunity in comparison if the only use their own medium calibre weaponry.

    3. I want to try to make a direct comparison of your design and TOE of such an unit with other ideas about it, including mine:

      If i understand you correctly you are talking about a kind of regimental combat team with a strength equivalent of around 16 companies:

      1 HQ/radio/ECM/ECCM Unit, 8 Scout Companies (strengthened with a support platoon), 1 Sustainment/Maintaince-Unit, 1 Infantry (Ranger)-Bataillon (strengthened with anti-tank, indirect fire and air-defence)

      This would lead to an ratio of at least 11 subunits which is extremly difficult to lead and to coordinate and therefore for wasted efforts, swarming, and piecemeal. I doubt that such swarms of companies can withstand an coordinated counter-attack if you surround an enemy unit with 6 - 8 such companies.

      That does not mean i suggest bataillon battlegroups instead but the companies would need in my opinion two things: 1 another kind of toe that enables them to coordinate their efforts better and 2 more organic (indirect) firepower - and because this cannot be realised in the companies for themselve they need a kind of very fast and light organic artillery-unit in the context of an bigger subunit.

      McGregor was describing such an structure since 1997 in his light reconaissance strike group which would have:

      3 Recce Bataillons, 1 C4I Bataillon, 1 Strike-Bataillon and 1 Sustainment Bataillon. An Force of about 24 companies which is 8 companies stronger than yours and therefore a kind of brigade.

      My idea about this would be to combine:

      2 Scouting Bataillons, 1 Infantry (Ranger)-Bataillon, 1 Missile-Bataillon (Air-Defence and Rocket Artillery, 1 C4ISR Bataillon (with UCAV Company) and 1 Support Bataillon (with Pioneer-Unit)

      Which would also mean 6 Bataillons and arround 24 companies like the LRSG but with more air-defence, and light infantry and so more versatile.

      That does not mean you then build a bataillon battle-group, but that you split the scouting-bataillons into companies and use them instead and they can use the organic missile/UCAV firepower of the brigade and addding to the this the indirect firepower of other units. Moreover such a toe would over more sustainability and flexiblity and such a unit would be more than useful in many coin scenarios.

    4. No, that's not what I meant. The rangers would be completely separate. To team up with them is but a plan B for concept risk management.

      It's more like this:
      Skirmishers use ~40 ton tracked vehicles and ~ 20 ton tracked support vehicles. They are fairly combat-oriented (delaying actions, probing, interdiction, counterrecce). They would be the ones that cause much trouble around OPFOR manoeuvre brigades.

      Raiders are similar, but would use 6x6 vehicles instead, are much more stealth-oriented and have much greater endurance (1,500 km on road + use of captured fuels). Their firepower would be quite the same, albeit with less anti-MBT rounds.
      They would be the ones that raid hundreds of km deep, even into airbases.
      Both skirmishers and raiders infiltrate and exfiltrate LRRP teams. Raiders may serve as skirmishers in some terrains.

      Skirmishers and raiders would NOT be lead in the classic way of one Rgt HQ controlling 3-5 subordinate manoeuvre elements. Instead, they would have an area of operation assigned by Corps HQ. Same with the LRRPs.

      Essentially, they would operate like Type VII Uboats in the 2nd Battle of the Atlantic. This includes pulsing swarm (wolfpack) attacks on major targets and the use of such swarms for de facto encirclement.
      Think of how wide the span of command was for the 2nd Battle of the Atlantic! No rule of 3, 4 or 5 applied because of loose control through missions.

      The Coy TOE would see companies of 3 scout platoons + 1 support platoon and two companies would be sent on a common mission.
      The two support platoons would offer redundancy of support and might each keep one scout platoon nearby for security.

      I recommend this for inspiration:

    5. Just curious where do you think such maneuver could be pulled off? Or what geographical area you had in mind when visioning such capabilities and TO&E? This is especially interesting scenario if the defender uses such ability and counterattacks into the attackers rear, through habitated industrial areas against military targets. Not even Russia can defend every square kilometer so attacking into Russian heartland would be somewhat feasible.

    6. Many battlefields would be possible, but the force density would need to be low (no "front line" secured enough to make infiltration and exfiltration too risky).

      - Eastern Europe
      - East Asia (RU vs. PRC)
      - could have worked for South Africans in the 80's
      - could be used in a utterly hypothetical Pampa conflict

      The LRDG of WW2 is an analogy for the raiders, light cavalry (horse archers etc.) is another analogy.

    7. I am convinced that such a doctrine would lead to piecemeal, and a waste of efforts which will achive not so much as you think. Such swarms are very vulnerable for coordinated counter-attacks and many circumstances which made this strategy possible in the past are not longer available today. The times has changed, the densitiy of the population is extremly much higher, the possibilty that you will not encounter only military batallions but you have to fight the people as a whole is much bigger and you think to much in my opinion in the categories of the cabinet wars which is in my opinion often a failure in your strategic thinking .

      The RAND study claims that three factors enable such a swarm to win: Elusiveness—either through mobility or concealment / A longer range of firepower—standoff capability /
      Superior situational awareness.

      Today no such ground unit could pass without permanent surveillance at least from the civilian population which all have smartphones, cameras, internet and so on. The densitiy of recording devices and of the surveillance as a whole is unreached in history as is the fastness in which information can be transported and spread.

      Simply you will not have the necessary superior situational awareness, but the enemy will have about you.

      And the enemy will use air-assets to counter such swarms and no wonder-weapon-75mm-multipurpose-cannon will prevent this. Simple ucavs will always be faster than the ground vehicle swarm and will harm it sufficient so that it cannot reach its targets. Mines and artillery will finish the rest. Without aircover and without own sufficient nlos firepower such a swarm would not survive nlos counterattacks and support-platoons have not sufficient mass for serious c-ram or serious air-defence.

      One can find such a swarm much easier from the air than on the opposite the swarm can find the target in the air and the air is faster, so the swarm looses this factor too.

      This leads directly to the question of the elusivnes: ground vehicles 6 x 6 with around 20 tons are not elusive enough even against a coordinated counter-attack of enemy armour. They cannot conceal enough against modern sensor capabilites and cannot run fast enough in difficult terrain. So they must use roads to be fast enough to evade the counter-attack and then they are easy prey for air assets and artillery.

      So far as i can see it, none of the three mentioned factors which RAND claims are decisive for swarming can be achieved today with 6x6 armoured vehicles.

      The submarine war in the atlantic is also not an good example because such vehicles cannot dive underwater and in the ocean there are only few units in the see so the troop and sensor density is extremly low. Especilly the last point was of utmost importance and afther 1942 then the allies had a better surveillance the submarines failed and had enourmos losses. On land in modern countries the sensor density is extremly high (civilian population, smartphones, internet and so on) and this would break such a doctrine the neck.

      The piecemeal of scattered raiding companies would only lead to enourmos losses amongst the raiders and to very low effects in comparison to the input. Of cause they would destroy some things and would be an annoyance, but the effects would not be sufficient.

      The times has changed and the factors which are necessary are today not longer given.

    8. Well, one by one:

      Everything is vulnerable. That's modern warfare. In fact, dispersion is being considered to be one of the biggest survivability enhancers, and wrote about great dispersion.

      Civilians would neither have electrical power nor landline phone service nor mobile phone service. They won't report much unless they own a satellite phone or talk to troops directly.

      The odds of civilians observing and identifying raiders during their nightly movements or during daytime in a hideout are marginal.
      6x6 AFVs look like normal lorries on GMTI radars and are thus extremely difficult to discern from civilian traffic by radars.

      Generally, if the opposing forces muster the surveillance and combat assets to defeat the raiders in a 200,000 sq km are that would be great. Such an effort is self-defeating - it would lend a few raider battalions a war-winning diversion effect.

      Abtou modern sensor capabilities; on paper they are great, in face of countermeasures in a large area not so much. Remember the Americans' disappointment about being unable to detect more than half the fighting positions of Tora Bora with a huge concentration of modern sensors.

      Overall your comment has a feel of typical conservative reactions to reform proposals. A critique of imperfections WITHOUT taking into account that the status quo is riddled with imperfections.
      A reform proposal does not need to achieve perfection. It needs to improve on the status quo only.
      I suppose it's self-evident that a platoon of silenced 6x6 AFVs is much more difficult to detect and engage than a deployed company of MBTs.

  5. The French use their vehicles in a mix.
    Leclerc/AMX10rc/ERC/Jaguar platoons always has a VBL on a 1:1 scale as Chasers.
    They provide foot scouts and extra Security.

    They have a fire team structure of 6 soldiers in all cavalry units. On foot they then have a perfect size for observation over time and leaping patrols.
    If they use heavier set ups like Leclerc, then the VBL stay back and only shows up for delivering extra help in basing areas+ foot reconnaissance