Kinkajou : The foot soldier has been the staple of conflicts for ten thousand years of human history. Weapons and armour have all evolved, but at the end of the day it is the foot soldier that walks into battle and takes the ground. Very little has changed in terms of this combat unit for centuries.
Erasmus : The infantry soldier is a very special combat unit. Infantry are able to function in any weather or terrain, able to mix with resident populations and to influence their actions, are able to capture opposition forces or elements of the resident population and have the capacity to kill. Infantry is exceptionally versatile in its usages and is able to operate and influence a wide number of combat situations.
Mechanised warfare units today are combinations of tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APC) infantry vehicles (IFV), trucks as well as infantry. Experience has shown that these units operate best combined in exploiting the particular strengths of the individual components of the unit in combat.
When survival in combat is measured, strangely it is the infantry unit that has the longest survival time in battle. Tanks, vehicles, aircraft or other mechanised battle units have much lower survival time. Infantry can infiltrate a terrain or environment or cityscape. Mechanised units by their nature stand out and are more easily targeted. Mechanised units are also obviously higher value targets with greater capacity for destruction, necessitating greater attention for neutralisation.
Aussie Infantry in the Field
Erasmus : Infantry is capable of an engaging an enemy operating in complex terrain such as a cityscape, and in its operations discriminating between enemy and non-combatants in circumstances that most other battle units cannot.
Infantry can undertake specialised and unspecialised tasks where force is required. In many recent conflicts, infantry has been used for multiple purposes such as police keeping and enforcement operations and civilian populations.
Such a situation has eventuated in the Iraqi war where mobile units operate within streets. However infantry exiting from the mobile units, interact with the population. These types of activities are a compromise between the need for policing roles and the need for combat hardened troops at an “on-site”, “on the ground” level.
Due to the ability of enemy combatants to blend into population, and the difficulty of discriminating combatants from innocent members of the population, a combined policing+ infantry role developed out of the need to control the situation on the ground.
Kinkajou : it becomes obvious that every conflict defines the armed forces that are required to act within it. A situation needs to be analysed and the types of forces that are appropriate to deal with the enemy in conflict need to be designed and deployed.
For example, Mobile forces suitable for acting against enemy tank formations in France in 1942 in the Second World War would be unlikely to be appropriate for conflict with Iraq. Horses for courses.
Moderen Aussie Infantry
I think too often Armed Forces are built and are not tailor-made to the circumstances for which they will be used in. Using the wrong armaments, having mobility issues and utilising inappropriately trained troops, will result in high casualties and increased costs and damage in conflict situations. In the extreme situation, a battle or engagement could easily be lost due to inappropriate force configurations.
Erasmus : Yes I think too often military planners lag behind the situations in which their military becomes deployed. Military units are raised up for specific purposes, usually because a specific event has occurred in the past and then are used for different purposes, without rearming, re-armouring, retraining and without reconfiguration of force units.
Reconfiguration and retasking is a process which probably needs to occur before every significant conflict or engagement with the enemy. If you want to win you must plan to win. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail by default.
Enhancing the mobility of infantry has been a priority for thousands of years. Even in ancient and mediaeval armies, soldiers moved as mounted cavalry or in association with chariots. The concept of combined arms has been around for many years as well.
Chariots were often designed with a driver and one or two fighting men. The mounted knight would usually maintain his esquire and often another man at arms as part of the battle unit.
Trays and carts would assist the movement of men and supplies to and from battle. Some armies such as the Mongols had their chief unit as the nomadic horse archer. Lightly armed but highly mobile, able to fend for themselves in terms of supplies, armed with weapons capable of injuring a distance, the “mounted” mobile (cavalry)
infantry soldiers created an empire that spanned most of Asia.
Horse Archer Infantry
Kinkajou : Yes, it’s interesting that training and technology that made a man a better provider for his family in his normal life, also made him a better mobile warrior. It takes years to develop the skills to use archery on horseback accurately. These abilities (archery and horse-riding used in hunting), gave the Mongols the mobility to choose their battles, engaging the enemy only in situations where they had an advantage
Mongol Warrior Firing Bow from Horse
Kinkajou : Early in the first millennia, the foot soldier became partially superseded by horse archers and mobile cavalry. Note the success of the Mongols against far larger existing empires.
The advent of cavalry, forced the foot soldier to become increasingly regimented into protective blocks or formations, away from open lines of troops. These led in turn to the development of infantry weapons such as the pike. The pike is a very long weapon generally described as being between 3m and 7.5m in length.
It allowed a mass of spearheads to confront enemy cavalry or attacking infantry, while their wielders were relatively safely out of range. These pikeman needed to be equipped with shorter weapons such as a short sword or dagger to defend themselves in a battle, when the formations of pikemen were under close attack.
Eventually the development of projectile weapons such as guns and cannon, obviated the usefulness of tight formations of soldiers and returned the initiative back to the individual soldier or infantryman. The infantry formations dissolved. The individual soldier’s mobility and initiative became more valuable.
In the 20th century, modern infantrymen are equipped with automatic or semi-automatic projectile weapons. Some soldiers would carry armour piercing weaponry such as RPGs. (Rocket Propelled Grenades are essentially shaped charges quite capable of piercing even the armour of many heavy tanks. Weapons such as grenade launchers and flame throwers became increasingly important in the modern conflict.
Erasmus : Infantry in ancient times developed in locale-specific force configurations. The first foot soldier was probably a tribesman armed with his spear. This progressed to groups of men armed with swords and eventually these men became armoured men on horseback, when armour began to provide the edge needed in battle for survival.
In Greek and Roman times, the foot soldier or infantryman had evolved into a unit with cooperative effort in battle.
Greek Hoplite Infantry
The Greek hoplite configuration was standard in conflicts in this region for hundreds of years. In hoplites, a group of men would combined together to form a full phalanx with overlapping shields and coordinated weapons, especially spear use. Typically this would be a rectangular formation of men, generally with some type of spear, and some type of personal armouring perhaps including helmets and breastplates.
This enabled this small unit of men to cope with and defend themselves against much larger forces, with each man adding to some of the defence of the men adjacent to him, due to the construction of the phalanx formation.
Kinkajou : In Roman times, a typical infantryman could be armed with a helmet, coat of mail, armoured Greaves which covered the leg protecting the tibia from injury, shields, large swords, smaller swords, throwable darts, throwable spears, bows and arrows, slingers of stones or darts, and cudgel throwers.
Most Roman infantry in the late Republic and early Roman Empire, used swords and specialised throwing spears as their main weapons. With time, this devolved into later Roman infantry using thrusting spears as their main weapons in the middle and late Roman Empire period.
Erasmus : Mechanised infantry is a concept which has been with us predominately in the 20th century. The concept however spans a number of types of force combinations. Possibilities include:
- tanks and armoured personnel carriers acting in concert
- tanks and infantry fighting vehicles acting in concert
- Tanks and other armoured vehicles with support troops based on trucks following the battle line.
- Cavalry units in association with armoured vehicles, early in Second World War
Erasmus : The chief characteristic of mechanised infantry in these force combinations are characterised by:
- Coordinated attacks involving the main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles armed with various weapons such as machine guns, autocannons, howitzers, anti-tank guided missiles, rockets, directly mounted on fighting vehicles and infantry units.
- Swift changes between mounted and dismounted combat
- Close cooperation between the various units exploiting advantages of particular units. (The ethos of the Blitzkrieg was heavily armed tank units would engage the enemy. When these forces were unable to overcome enemy resistance medium tanks and light infantry fighting vehicles would move forward and support. In the most difficult situations, infantry could be brought forward to support heavier equipment and in turn would be supported in a battle situation by the heavier arms of the mechanised units).
- Combining fire power and movement of armed units and men to achieve local superiority in chosen battlefields.
- Fast movement between battles. Tank for Combat
There are substantial configuration and logistic support issues with these types of modern formations. Infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) may require two or even three men but only carry six or seven infantry. APCs will often have a crew of two but mount a section of 7 to 10 infantryman.
These types of units require more combat supplies especially ammunition and fuel and ordnance supplies such as spare vehicle components. They require a greater proportion of their manpower to crew and maintain the vehicles, effectively removing a percentage of fighting men from the front line.
WW2 Soviet Tanks
Kinkajou : When one looks at the infantry unit over time, one becomes impressed that many things have not changed. In ancient times:
Standardized weapons including
- a sword,
- a thrusting or throwing spear,
- metal helmets,
- Personal body armour, (e.g. could be metallic or made of leather or wood ) and
Infantrymen also would carry personal equipment such as
- basic eating utensils,
- Warm clothes and / or blankets.
Other not so obvious but essential military factors included:
- Military formations
- Logistic supply and support
- Strategic purpose
Overloaded Infantry Man
Kinkajou : If you look at the above list, you can see the only thing that has really changed much is the weapons. Today soldiers carry a rifle rather than the sword or throwing spear. Infantry still use metal helmets and often personal body armour, with variable capabilities. (Some body armour is capable of stopping ballistic impacts such as rifle bullets, whereas other body armour is lighter and more suitable for shrapnel protection only).
Erasmus : Yes. I can see what you’re talking about. A soldier might catch a bigger better ride to battle but he still walks to and through the battle today the same as
Erasmus : The nature of tactics has changed to accommodate the new weapons and new methods or fighting. Personal armour in many applications has been sacrificed for mobility when not wearing armour.
In World War 2, the infantryman still walked into battle. Many vets described the situation, that when a general troop movement would begin, vehicles would arrive and the soldiers would be moved. Many of these same soldiers when moving to a new theatre of conflict would describe walking up to a thousand miles to redeploy into a new theatre of war, the vehicles being too valuable and scarce to allow them to be used as personal transport to make life easier for troops,.
They needed to be saved for and used exclusively in critical combat situations to facilitate troop mobility. They were too precious and scarce to use at any time except directly before / after a battle, where mobility was essential.
Resting Aussie Soldier
Erasmus : Hard to Believe isn’t it. Still, in this, the 21st century, the average soldier walks into battle, carrying a weapon and personal supplies and logistic support equipment. (E.g. groups weapons, radios, anti-tank munitions).
As in ancient days, the average soldier can carry the same payload as he/she ever has, moves about the same speed he/she always has and has difficulties with the same obstacles he/she always has.
Kinkajou : Look at the strengths of the average infantryman.
The Modern soldier
- weighs around 70-80 kg,
- Can carry about 30kg in equipment weapons and supplies.
- His power rating: ability to do physical work is about 100 watts give or take, equivalent to an old style incandescent light bulb.
- He can move at about 5-10 km per hour on mild to moderately uneven terrain
- He / she is susceptible to physical obstacles: a 2m depth of water or a 3metre high wall poses immediate problems.
- On the positive side, when dug in , they are relatively immune to artillery and small weapons fire,
- They can be armoured but again at an increasing cost to mobility and ability to operate in adverse (hot) environments,
- They are very susceptible to supply chain blockage: a soldier can only carry so much food, water and munitions and supply bases need to be very close to the front line of a battlefield to allow resupply of soldiers.
Kinkajou : Surely, something in this situation needs to change. Even simple economics demands improved performance. At this time, 20 infantryman cost a country about $1 million per annum in terms of ages and logistic support. If you look at each of these units as having a budget, surely you could extract some efficiencies out of the “infantryman unit” with modern technology.
Erasmus : I have over the years seen a number of suggestions to do this. I started my computer usage with a game called “Mech warrior”. The Mech warrior is probably the ultimate personal fighting unit, but in terms of battlefield value is probably the equivalent of the average tank.
Still you would see the introduction at times of a new unit the “elemental”. These were simply men augmented in their combat role by mechanical suits or frames.
Aussie Mark5 Tank WW1
If you look at the performance of the “elementals” these infantry units would:
- weighs around 100-250 kg,
- Can carry up to 130kg in equipment weapons and supplies.
- Their power rating: ability to do physical work is about 2000 watts give or take, equivalent to about 20 times the power rating of the average unaugmented human being. (For comparison an average human being has a power rating equivalent to about an old style incandescent light bulb, i.e. about 100watts).
- He can move at about 20-45 km per hour on even difficult or uneven terrain
- He / she is less susceptible to physical obstacles: a 2m depth of water or a 3metre high wall would pose less substantive problems.
- They could well be made to be fairly immune to obstacles such as barbed wire or razor wire
- On the positive side, they retain advantages such as being able to dig in , becoming relatively immune to artillery and small weapons fire, A mechanised trouper could in fact dig a shell scrape or foxhole in much less time with Mech less performance degradation than an average man
- They can be armoured but again at an increasing cost to mobility and ability to operate in adverse (hot) environments. The armour carried by a mechanised warrior could be made to be much more substantive than that carried by an unenhanced foot slogger.
- They are less susceptible to supply chain blockage due to their enhanced ability to carry their own supplies and equipment, not limited to that 30kg personal carriage limit of an unenhanced infantryman: a soldier can only carry so much food, water and munitions and supply bases need to be very close to the front line of a battlefield to allow resupply of soldiers. Again, the faster movement means supply bases can move further back from the battlefront.
Kinkajou : But still the specific value of the infantryman on the ground has not changed.
Erasmus :There are many tasks that can be achieved by an on the ground units such as the infantryman. While we have many different technical methods of reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering, often the infantryman must penetrate to ground zero to detect the enemy.
The enemy may well withdraw to complex physical terrain, disperse or attempt to blend in to background non-combatant “civilian” populations. Under the circumstances of city scape combat, detection of hostiles needs to be done at close quarters by humans on the ground, such as the infantryman. Infantryman in these situations can apply accurate proportional and discriminating doses of lethal or nonlethal force.
Soldier at War
Achieving proximity to the enemy may require movement through spaces that vehicles cannot move through or into, or that technology cannot penetrate, (rough to rain, tree canopies, caves, bunker systems and buildings).
In modern warfare (cityscape) discriminating the enemy from non-combatants often requires a continuous physical presence among a population. It also allows infantry support elements to provide protection and other inducements to vulnerable populations that the enemy that he willing to exploit. It may also allow intelligence to be gathered on enemy activities.
It is interesting here that the prolonged conduct of continuous security operations amongst non-combatant occupied populations compromises the ability of the infantryman to perform their core function, (combat).
This situation essentially dictates a new role for infantry which is protecting, controlling, working with and exploiting intelligence by operating continuously amongst vulnerable populations.
Kinkajou : it’s not really that new. After all, Roman soldiers traditionally spent much of their lives occupying outposts of the Empire. Here they would settle down, marry the locals and breed a new generation of Roman citizens. So soldiers have been acting as “police” throughout time.
Instead of fighting combatants with swords, they need to combat technologically advanced and dangerously armed opponents with far more powerful destructive weapons. It’s just the visibility of what soldiers do that has increased, amplified by general media coverage as well as media coverage through personal portals such as Facebook. Every one learns about a problem that could once just disappear and be forgotten about.
Mech Suit for Infantry
Erasmus : The nature of many conflicts has changed in the current world. There is substantially more insurgency and guerrilla warfare. However traditional combat situations are easy to find. Note the example of the Ukraine where its Armed Forces are lined up against well-armed well-trained and well supplied “insurgents”. The same situation occurs where Isis troops are invading Iraq and extending their control within Syria, fighting the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in traditional battles.
The infantry will always be used where difficult manoeuvring in physical terrain compromises vehicle safety, making vehicles and their operating troops vulnerable. This is typical in a cityscape where the enemy had infiltrated the population. However, these difficulties are not unique to the modern era and have occurred in other military situation such as the invasion of Italy in World War II.
Defending troops with pack animals moved faster in difficult terrain than the vehicle rich British divisions close to the coast. Constant seasonal rain had turned the countryside into a quagmire that restricted vehicles to roads, negating the advantage of mechanised forces over the defending infantry.
One critical skill of infantry the Second World War, especially pioneered by the Germans involved each infantry group being able to access specialist tools and explosives. The expendable infantry antitank weapon such as the German Panzerfaust blunted the advance of many Allied mechanised units.
The the Germans were pioneers of granting initiative to local commanders who with local knowledge were able to decide the best method of achieving the military tasks which they were given by their commanders.
Other specialised pieces of equipment are the use of shaped charges, (often used against installation such as pillboxes) or flame throwers. Infantry carry communications gear such as radios. Infantry in “assault pioneer” units may carry explosives into combat situations.