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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
  • 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 6×6/8×8 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.

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.


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