Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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Defence and Freedom: (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.


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