Light, Medium, and Heavy Ground Units - Pros, Cons, and Controversies

Discussion in 'Professional Discussions' started by Norfolk, Aug 15, 2007.

  1. crobato
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    crobato Colonel
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    The Hezbollah liberating? That would be some news. I never remember them being tagged as "freedom fighters". This is like a terrorist group, their purpose is to make you bleed and make statements about your vulnerability.

    They should have secured the peace first, then gradually remove the Baathists later.

    Well, if they don't want to be Chinese, why take a Chinese passport? China does not have internal insurgencies if that is what you mean, other than the Muslim insurgents in Xinjiang.

    The army isn't any social homogenizer. It hardly plays a role in Chinese social life. In fact, the PLA's presence is almost never felt, just symbolic, like that garrison in Hong Kong. The dominance of Chinese culture itself has been the main homogenizer. The simple fact that people do not want to be left out, meant they, even as ethnic minorities, have to join in to enjoy the social progress and prosperity of the mainstream. I remember that's what my Chinese tour guide told me, as she later admits being a Mongolian.

    If you look at past Chinese history, a lot of ethnic minorities became Chinese not because they have a gun holding against their head, but because they are simply swept by the culture whose norm of being "civilized" is to adopt Chinese customs and language. Its kind of like today, our norm of being educated and civilized is to wear a suit and talk English. And because in China, every minority is also Asian, eyes, skin and hair color, blending in and later absorbtion becomes very easy. You do not have the genetic differences that will continuously remind you that you are a different race.
     
    #11 crobato, Aug 18, 2007
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  2. Norfolk
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    Norfolk Junior Member
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    zraver:

    You are very right about the Iraqi Partisans - objectively speaking, most of them can't fight their way out of a paper bag - as not only cannot they take on mechanized troops one-on-one, but the only reason that they're even in the game is the lack of sufficient US troops (primarily infantry) in-country to occupy and control the ground from the beginning. That said, I think the continued existence of those Iraqi Partisans goes some way to proving the argument that their mere presence is enough, that is, in the absence of superior force, they naturally occupy (more in a physical than a tactical sense) and control the ground and its population. As long as the partisans exist and can avoid decisive defeat and annihilation, they are succeeding, more or less.

    And I think that you are so right about Light and Medium Infantry in general (with certain exceptions) and especially the Stryker Brigades. As you say, anything that a rifle team can do, a rifle team with a Heavy IFV can do better (I would add the caveat that this is conditional on extremes of terrain and climate, otherwise it generally holds true). And the Stryker is just an example of fuzzy peacetime thinking and the Military-Industrial complex cooking up solutions to problems that have been handled just fine using more traditional methods (either commandos, marine/airborne infantry, regular foot infantry, and armour/armoured infantry). And it costs a lot of money while not being able to stand up to Heavy units (competently handled).

    crobato:

    As I said in my reply to zraver, and it appears that I erred in not making this clear, I do not consider Partisans to hold ground in a purely tactical sense, but rather in the sense that, by their presence in the area and amongst the population in the absense of a greater enemy force, they are by default in de facto occupation and control of that ground and its population. I apologize for this negligence.

    Gollevainen:

    I do not believe that atomic weapons of any kind should exist, let alone be used, but in the environment of the Cold War, tactical atomic weapons were a reality of life. And although the Cold War may be over, the weapons still exist, and armies must be able to deal with them in the event that their use may become a real possibility just as in the Cold War.

    As for nuking Partisans, I am inclined to agree that that is a little excessive. I suspect that such an event would have more to do with some frustrated corps commander going a little off the deep end, and deciding to toss tac nukes at Partisan campfires while a few of the lads were brewing up some tea is not generally considered to constitute an operational decision in our profession; another profession would term that a "Nervous Break-Down".

    I see this thread is taking off a little. I think SampanViking should give us another idea for a new topic to discuss.
     
    #12 Norfolk, Aug 18, 2007
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  3. Norfolk
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    On the issue of Light and Medium Ground Units especially, I am not entirely convinced but still rather doubtful that conventional Mountain, Marine, Airborne/Air Assault, and Motorized Divisions are necessary, or if so, only under even more limited circumstances than now. Many countries maintain substantial forces of Light and Medium Ground Units. Many of these units are intended to be more for power-projection than defence, even though they lack heavier armour and weapons as well as restricted supplies. Such units as these I suspect that they are rather more suited to the Second World War, in which many of them (especially Marine and Airborne Divisions) were formed, than now.

    The US Army, for example, has 1 Airborne, 1 Air Assault, and 2 Light Infantry Divisions (basically even more lightly armed and equipped Airborne Divisions but not on jump status - one of which, the 10th Mountain Divisions, carries the Mountain title as a traditional, not actually operational, designation) in the Active Army, and 1 Light Infantry division in the Army National Guard. To complicate matters, many of the brigades of these specialized foot infantry divisions are in fact motorized using the LAV III Stryker armoured car. Until less than 20 years ago, the US Army included a Motorized Infantry division.

    The US Marine Corps has 3 Active and 1 Reserve Marine Divisions (essentially the traditional Foot Infantry Divisions supported by medium artillery and small numbers of heavy tanks and IFVs as well as armoured cars (LAV-25 Piranha), but with specialized amphibious assault training and equipment).

    The PLA now maintains 3 Airborne Divisions (1 still forming) and is plans to form 3 more, supported it seems by some Air Assault units. The PLA also maintains several Light Infantry Divisions as well as many Foot Infantry Divisions supported by medium artillery and large numbers of MBTs and possibly some limited APCs. The PLAN maintains 2 Marine Brigades, motorized infantry with artillery and tank support.

    The Russian Army maintains a few Airborne Divisions (with some light armour)as well as a few Air Assault Brigades. The Russian Navy maintains at least 2, maybe more Naval Infantry Brigades, motorized infantry with artillery and tank support.

    The British Army maintains (a somewhat imperfectly parachute-capable) Air Assault/Airborne Brigade, while the Royal Marines maintain a Commando Brigade (including Army troops) specializing in amphibious warfare. Army Motorized ("Mechanized") Brigades exist.

    The French Army maintains small Airborne, Airmobile, Alpine, Motorized, and Marine Divisions (the size of brigades elsewhere), although the Navy maintains a battalion of Marine Commandos.

    Many other countries maintain modest forces of the types such as these great powers possess.

    As I stated at the beginning of this post, many of these units were formed for the Second World War, particularly the Marine and Airborne Divisions. Mountain/Alpine Divisions have existed since at least the First World War, and with the exception of a few units such as the Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade, are unmatched in their field. Motorized Divisions were formed for the Second World War, to secure ground that had been won by Armoured Divisions which (theoretically at least) were free to pursue the defeated enemy. Air Assault/Airmobile Divisions have only been around since the Vietnam War (although both the USMC and the French Army were important and successfull pioneers in this field prior to the US Army's first Airmobile division, the 11th Air Assault Division (renamed the 1st Cavaly Division [Airmobile] was formed and sent to Vietnam. As for Light Infantry Divisions, many that exist have been formed for the territorial defence of regions that possess extremes of terrain or climate and that preclude most or all use of Heavy ground units. Others, however, have been formed since the Vietnam War with a power-projection role in mind.

    In general, such Light and Medium ground units have performed, and performed well, the roles assigned to them. That said, there are some problems and inconsistencies with many of them. I will deal with these by type:

    1. Mountain/Alpine Divisions - Perhaps the oldest and most proven type of modern Light or Medium ground unit apart from the regular Foot Infantry Division itself, the Mountain Division (in competent hands) is probably unsurpassed in the role of teritorial defence of mountainous terrain. In the role of power-projection in mountainous terrain, it is also hard to beat. Only a few Commando units (albeit with additional and extensive mountain and also arctic warfare training and experience) such as the Royal Marines, may match or surpass this. Otherwise, the Mountain division seems secure in its role.

    2. Marine/Amphibious Divisions - At present, only the USMC maintains Marines at a true Divisional level. That said, many countries possess nominal Marine Divisions (and more did so during the Cold War) as well as smaller formations, especially brigades. Marine units have typically performed quite well in the roles assigned to them. However, many of these Marine units are in fact something else.

    The Royal Marines, while most certainly capable of amphibious assault, are in fact Commando Forces, as do appear the Russian Naval Infantry, the PLAN Marines, and a number of smaller Marine forces. While Marine Commando Forces tend to be more lightly equipped, organized, and supplied than regular Marines, their more extensive and advanced training suits them to conduct much more specialized and demanding tasks.

    After all, regular Marine units are conventional infantry who possess additional training and equipement for amphibious assaults. Both US Army and US Marine Divisions conducted amphibious assaults in the Pacific during WWII (as well as some Commonwealth formations), and of course, in the largest amphibious assault of WWII, all eight of the divisions involved were drawn from the British, Canadian, and US Armies (with the first two armies reinforcing their divisions with full Tank Brigades, whereas US Army and US Marine Corps Divisions were typically reinfoced with only a Tank Battalion). Amphibious warfare training and equipment are certainly necessary, but as normandy proved, separate Marine Divisions are not necessary.

    3. Airborne/Air Assault/Airmobile Divisions -

    Soviet and German Airborne Divisions were formed for power-projection roles, not defensive purposes, and subsequently the British and US Armies followed suit. In the British Army, however, the Airborne Forces were initially intended to be fulled-fledged Commando Forces instead. Just as much of the amphibious role had fallen to the Army Commandos (and the Royal Marines were eventually converted en masse to the Commando role), so much of the airborne role had originally been intended to be taken on also by the Commandos.

    However, the number of troops require for the Airborne role was judged to exceed the number of troops deemed likely to pass Commando training. In a survey of infantry battalion commanders, the British Army discovered that two-thirds of regular infantrymen would be capable of passing paratroop training; this, however, did not guarantee that the same men would pass the more rigorous and specialized commando training. The British Army, even with commonwealth and foreign volunteers to draw upon, never exceeded much more than around a dozen battalion-sized Commando units in existence at any one time. Clearly, even giving the entire Commando force parachute training would not suffice to supply entire divisions of paratroops.

    No.2 Army Commando, the first commando fully trained in parachuting, was used as a cadre for the training and formation of the Airborne Forces, which recruited regular infantry for the Airborne role, raising 2 Airborne Divisions. The US Army created separate Ranger (Commando) Battalions (only about 6 at any time) and Airborne Divisions (5 in total). Although the Airborne Divisions performed well in their roles, the Commandos were all parachute-trained and fully Airborne-capable by 1944, and, formed into Brigades, spearheaded the Allied crossing of the Rhine River(the US Army 13th Airborne Division, which was scheduled to participate in the crossing by parachuting on the other side of the Rhine, never did so; its jump was cancelled, resulting in the unique distinction of its being the only US Army division of the war to never see battle). There has been no full-scale Airborne Division combat jump since 1945.

    The Air Assault/Airmobile Divisions have had more mixed success. The first full-scale Airmobile Division to see combat was the 1st Cavalry Division in the Vietnam War. Helicopters gave the division great operational mobility, though once the infantry had disembarked from its helicopters, it reverted to regular Foot Infantry. Regular Foot Infantry Divisions also enjoyed, at times, some scale of helicopter support in the Airmobile role, though the cost and expense of the helicopters limited even the US Army to just two Airmobile Divisions (the 101st Airborne Division converting from the Airborne to the Airmobile/Air Assault role during the Vietnam War), and even then reducing to just one when the war wound down.

    When applied to regions in which Heavy ground units, such as Armoured and Armoured Infantry forces typically operated, the Air Assault Division proved to be a poor performer. Exercises in southern Germany several years after the end of the Vietnam War demonstrated the unsuitability and vulnerability of Air Assault forces (specifically the 101st Airborne Division [Air Assault])to Heavy formations, particularly when one of its Air Assault Brigades was caught not once, not twice, but three times in the midst of landing its battalions by the same mechanized infantry brigade posing as a break-through enemy force that the 101st Airborne Division had to block and contain using its attack helicopters and helicopter-borne infantry. Although the attack helicopters ultimately halted the mechanized brigade (which lacked organic air-defenses at the time), the Air Assault infantry battalions were mowed down by the mechanized troops before they had a chance to react. Air Assault Divisions were thereupon excluded from use by the US Army in areas in which they would face Heavy ground units.

    Similarly, the 101st Airborne Division was not committed to directly facing the Heavy ground units of the Iraqi Army during the first Gulf War, being used instead to establish forward operating bases and resupply points for the Heavy ground units of the US and British Armies which were used to deal with their Iraqi counterparts. Meanwhile, the 82nd Airborne Division was carried in trucks behind a French light armoured division to occupy an airbase in the deep desert and to take up a screening role on Third US Army's left flank. In the second Gulf War, the Iraq War, the US 3rd Mechanized Infantry Divisions and the reinforced US 1st Marine Division advanced on and took Baghdad, destroying the Heavy ground units of the Iraqi Army (those that showed up for the war, that is), while the UK 1st Armoured Division invested Basra. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions engaged in mopping-up and occupation operations.

    Airborne and Air Assault/Airmobile Divisions have seen only modest use since the Second World War, and indeed, in many armies regular infantry typically perform the Air Assault/Airmobile role (where and when suffcient helicopters are available), and Commando Forces have performed much of the Airborne role since late in the Second World War. The US Army Rangers, Belgian ParaCommando Regiment, 4th Battalion (Commando), Royal Australian Regiment (even though a paratroop battalion already exists in 3 RAR), and the German Army Special Operations Division (the regular paratroopers of 1st Airborne Division having given way to commando forces) are not only all parachute-trained, but are all Commando Forces, with training that goes well beyong that of regular Airborne troops. The Ranger Battalions, for one, have conducted as many combat airborne jumps since their creation in 1974 as have the rest of the regular US Army Airborne since the end of WWII. And as for The Parachute Regiment, their standards of training approach those of (and in a few areas, though not most, even exceed) those of the Royal Marine Commandos. If the roles of Airborne and Air Assault Divisions can be performed by Commando Forces even better (and in the case of Air Assault divisions even by regular infantry), it makes little sense to maintain them.

    4. Motorized Divisions -

    Motorized Divisions were designed for offensive purposes, specifically, to secure and hold ground that had been taken by Armoured Divisions. The Germans used Motorized/Panzergrenadier Divisions with great success for much of WWII. Once dug in, they had a fighting chance against enemy Heavy ground units; however, in the conduct of the mobile defence that the Germany Army was compelled to resort to later in the war, Motorized/Panzergrenadier Divisions suffered greatly at the hands of enemy Heavy units. Given both the shortage of, and the depleted condition of, the Armoured/Panzer Divisions that could take on enemy Heavy units, Motorized/Panzergrenadier Divisions were forced to enagage enemy Heavy units in mobile actions in lieu of proper Heavy units. Foot Infantry divisions that provided the base of the German defences were, given their near-total lack of armour or even motorized transport, completely unsuitable for enagaging in mobile operations to try to stop the very mobile enemy Armoured/Tank divisions.

    Since the Second World War, the Motorized Division has seen relatively little action, and Motorized units have principally engaged in aid to the civil power type operations and counter-insurgency operations. Despite the conversion from trucks/lorries to armoured cars/wheeled APCs, Motorized Divisions remain vulnerable to even infantry anti-tank weapons, not to mention Heavy units. The utter lack of their use (despite their continued existence) since the Second World War in anything more serious than low-intensity warfare as well as their progressive replacement by tracked armoured vehicles in the guerrilla war in Afghanistan (where both their vulnerability to RPGs hampers their support to infantry and their wheeled suspension cannot bear the difficult terrain for extended periods of time, leading to cracks in the vehicles' hulls) testifies to their very limited utility.

    Conclusion:

    Of the Light and Medium Ground Units that are presented here, it has been shown that only the Mountain Division, given its consistently satisfactory historical performance coupled with the unique and very specialized conditions of its mission, should probably be retained, although Commando Forces with proper training and equipment should also be capable of such a mission as well.

    The roles of Marine/Amphibious Division, while quite historically have been quite satisfactorily performed by Marines, have also been so with regular Army Divisions, who moreover (in the case of British and Canadian Infantry Divisions that were each reinforced with a Tank Brigade for the amphibious assaults in Normandy, and again conducted amphibious assaults in the Netherlands) were throughout the following campaign. Marine Divisions, by contrast, when their operations are over, may or may not be withdrawn. As such, separate Marine Divisions are not necessary as regular infantry can do the same things with the proper training and equipment, and much of the more specialized amphibious missions are performed by Commando Forces such as the US Army Ranger and the Royal Marines anyway.

    Airborne and Air Assault Divisions are similarly superfluous, as not only have Airborne Divisions not performed divisonal level combat drops since WWII, but the number of Airborne Divisions that existed in the US Army in WWII (5, of which 1 never saw combat) out of a total of 89 - a ratio of 1 AbnDiv to 18 other divs, as opposed to the 1 out of 10 now, demonstrates just how excessive even 1 parachute division is for the size of Army that even the US has. The PLA, with 3 Airborne Divisions and 3 more on the way, has never used even one in a combat parachute drop. Surely the US Army Rangers, suitably heavied-up a little (like the Royal Marines) could perform the US Army Airborne role even better. In Britain, the Paras are so close to the Royal Marines in many areas in terms of quality that it would be comparatively easy (strictly hypothetically speaking, setting aside all considerations of training staff availability and logistics, unit readiness, etc.) to fully convert them to Commando forces, with the substantial added edge that gives to infantry. This applies even more so to Air Assault/Airmobile Divisions, since their mission can be performed well enough by regular infantry provided they have the requisite helicopter support, given the sheer expense of such machines, and their limited quantity, it would make sense for the Air Assault mission to be performed by Commando forces. Again, it the US Army Rangers and commando-trained Paras would be much superior in this role to the 101st Airborne and their foreign counterparts.

    Motorized Divisions are, in some ways, the most superfuous of all the Light and Medium groung units. Originally designed to follow-up behind Armoured Divisions, not only did they suffer badly at the hands of enemy Armoured Divisions, but as Armoured Divisions have acquired more Armoured Infantry themselves (late WWII German Panzer Divisions typically featured 2 infantry companies for every 1 tank company, as both offensive and defensive operations proved the utter necessity for Armoured Divisions to have much more Armoured Infantry than Armour itself), the Motorized Divisions have been relegated in the main to internal security operations. And even in those situations, when internal security operations give way to guerrilla war, Motorized Infantry may well find themselves replaced by Armoured Infantry, due to the latter's greater ability to cross difficult terrain and resist infantry anti-tank weapons.

    Light Infantry Divisions have been left for last, and the verdict regarding them is split. Indeed, they have not even been treated with in the main body of this post, as this seems unnecessary given what shall follow here. As originally envisaged, Light Infantry Divisions, like mountain divisions, were designed for territorial defence in specific conditions of extreme climate or terrain which effectively restricted or even prohibited the use of Heavy ground units. They have traditionally (in competent hands) performed well in that role, even when heavily outnumbered and outgunned. The performance of the Finnish Army against the Soviet Army in 1940, which stunned the world, is the classic example of this. The subsequent performance of the Finnish Army during the Second World War, its ultimate outcome notwithstanding, proved that the performance of 1940 was not an anomaly, even if WWII provided much less opportunity for world admiration.

    The other side of Light Infantry Division use is in the power-projection role. In this role, they have been largely unproven, except in "colonial" type small wars. The US Army's Light Infantry Divisions were intended to face enemy Heavy ground units, including Armoured divisions, in places such as the Middle East while buying time for US Heavy ground units to arrive. That they were never used in that role (even in the lead-up to the First Gulf War, for which they had in fact been intended), seems to indicate that even the US Army entertained real doubts as to their supposed capabilities. Critics who considered them to be "too light to fight" and much more difficult to supply entirely by airlift than their supporters maintained, seem vindicated. Only one Light Infantry Division remains in the active US Army (where there had been 4), the 10th Mountain Division, while the 25th Infantry Division is now half-Motorized. Given this, Light Infantry Divisions should only be used in the territorial defence role, in conditions of extreme climate or terrain, as they were intended to, and have been proven able to do.

    In sum, except in conditions of extreme climate or terrain, most roles can be assumed by Heavy Ground Units (Armour/Armoured Infantry) or by Commando Forces. Only under the aforementioned conditions, should specialized Mountain, Light Infantry, Jungle Divisions be formed. Marine, Airborne/Air Assault, and Motorized Divisions are superfluous, and their roles can be performed just as well by a combination of Heavy Ground Units and Commando Forces.
     
  4. zraver
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    zraver Junior Member
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    Airmobile-

    Iraqi resistance or lack there of aside, the coalition's rapid drives into Iraqi in 91 and 2003 owe much of their success to fuel bladders ferried in and guarded by the 101st. This strategic use of assets most definitely achieved its goal. Light infantry even airborne or air mobile is after all a supporting tool to the main attack. These fuel bladders and forward screening helped the US Army reach the Karbala gap faster than anyone though possible in what has turned out to be the fastest military advance since the Mongols, and totally unhinged any chance of an Iraqi last stand outside of Baghdad itself.

    These forces also would have forced Iraq into into a tactically deadly situation via their screening if their C4SRI had not already been shattered. If they moved to attack the light units they would have telegraphed their intentions and committed their reserves. often knowing where an enemy isn't (because he is telling you where he is) is as important as knowing where he is.

    Airmobile forces also have a great deal of mobility in low intensity conflicts where vertical envelope takes on another aspect. In Indo-China France had to use paratroops and once the airfield was over run those troops were doomed. Heliborne troops are much harder to pin down in a siege situation and can thus deny defeat, and also give the higher level command an asset for raids and demonstrations that other units lack.

    During the Cold War Soviet airmobile and airborne units were almost of a separate type- a true air assault capability. Designed to support the deep battle theory by instilling friction via cut transportation links, shock, and at least for a short time real firepower. their employment behind NATO's lines on the North German plain was a serious enough threat that I believe that if we ever see detailed war plans emerge we will see certain front line combat units units tasked with rear area security effectively lessening the weight available to oppose the feared Soviet tank thrust.

    The Airmobile and also airborne as well as marine units also have one other task, intervention.

    Marine/naval infantry, Norfolk I agree that in a full scale war Army troops can conduct amphib assaults. However marines along with paratroopers and to a lesser extent heliborne can conduct interventionist missions heavier units cannot. When the brown stuff hits the whirling blades on the far side of the globe you only have a limited amount of time to get on scene and clamp down. As visible and breathing reminders of the national might behind them these troops can often restore a situation to normalcy. One can only wonder about Rawanda if the Us and French had gone and put boots on the ground and bullets in the air to stop the genocide. On a more common level, these troops are ideal peace keepers being low cost and easy to transport making them suited to UN missions in remote locations. Non of this is classic war fighting and might not be power projection per se, but it is a part of the world we live in and is definitely not a role for a heavy division although heavy units should be sent along quickly to support as shown by Mogadishu.

    I have very little use for medium or motorized infantry. If you really have to fight go heavy or go home. If it carries infantry and it doesn't go whop whop whop through the air it should also carry cannons, machine guns, and ATGM's.

    An old BMP-1 with a low velocity 73mm gun, AT-2, and 7.62mm MMG is of more immediate use to a pinned down rifle team facing an entrenched enemy than a high tech Stryker armed with only a 50 cal. The stryker's utility lies in its comm gear which can be put in any platform. However in a Tet style situation where the arty and air is being over worked radios are not nearly as valuable as more direct fire capability.
     
  5. Norfolk
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    Norfolk Junior Member
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    zraver:

    I do agree that the 101st Airborne Division's in operational support of Third Army's offensive was not only necessary, but indeed sustained VII Corps' (once its Armoured Divisions had formed up after passing through 1st Infantry Division's breech) and 24th Infantry Division's rapid advance-to-contact with the Republican Guard and other Iraqi Armour held in operational reserve.

    But with this and the other points I tried to make, I attempted to demonstrate that almost anything a Light ground unit can do, Commando Forces (a la Royal Marines, 75th Ranger Regiment, Belgian Para-Commando Regiment, Russian Naval Infantry Brigades, Army Commando Brigades of WWII, etc.) can do better, especially when very costly equipment (necessarily in limited supply) such as helicopters (or for that matter hovercraft) are involved. Commando training gives Light units a significant edge over their conventional Light unit counterparts (I don't think a US Airborne battalion or British Army infantry battalion would enjoy the prospect of facing an opponent the calibre of a US Ranger Battalion or a British Commando (granted, Ranger battalions are not organized, equipped or even intended for sustained operations, but their British Commando counterparts certainly are).

    I was also struck that when the opportunity for the 101st to at least occupy blocking positions on one or both sides of the al-Hammar Causeway west of Basra over the Euphrates presented itself, it was not so used. As the al-Hammar causeway was the chief route by which the Republican Guard and the bulk of the surviving Iraqi Army made their escape, I have taken this to at least indicate, and perhaps even confirm, doubts in the minds of US commanders as to the ability of the 101st to deal with Heavy ground units. As I stated in my last post, when the 101st was introduced to conditions in Germany, it fared badly during exercises with Heavy ground units, even when used in a blocking role. I strongly believe that when Light (Airborne, Air Assault, etc.) units are to be used in operational support of Heavy units, they must have Commando training to give them the best possible chance of success in an otherwise very hostile environment. Conventional Light (or Medium) Infantry have little or no place on the Mechanized battlefield.

    I agree with you that Medium (especially Motorized) ground units are of no practical use on the battlefield. I do believe however, as I held in the case of Airborne and Air Assault operations, that short of a general war situation in which Heavy ground units (with Commando Forces in operational support) are required for major Amphibious Assaults that open large-scale campaigns, Commando Forces (such as the Royal Marines, Russian Navy Infantry, PLAN Marine Corps, etc.) are the way to go, not conventional Marines.

    I think that where Airborne/Air Assault and Marine/Amphibious operations are concerned, conventional Airborne, Air Assault, and Marine infantry are either unnecessary (Heavy units can peform just as well as Marines in major Amphibious Landings), Commando Forces bring a level of skill, fitness, and discipline that their conventional Light Infantry counterparts cannot match. Where extra money needs to be spent on specialized equipment and troops for such operations, those troops should be Commandos, not regular infantry.
     
  6. SampanViking
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    I would just like to add a few observations about the PLA at this point.

    The main point being Terrain. In Europe, NATO and Warsaw Pact forces trained for combat on the great plains that stretach all the way from the Atlantic to the Urals and for which the Heavy Armour Divisions make a lot of sense.

    If you look at China however you see that the answer is less compelling.

    The only potentially volitile Border zone which really resembles the European Plain is the Beijing - Manchuria territories up to the Korean Border and this is where you find the T99's and other Heavy, Mechanised A Divisions.

    If you look at other contested or unsetttled border zones you see a very different picture.

    Vietnam

    This is a border of Mountainous Jungle with Soggy Bottom Paddyfields and Huge Rivers, what you need here are good light, possibly airmobile troops and some Amphibeous equipment.

    India

    The Scarp slope of the Himalayers at the end of a vast, undeveloped and mountainous region and which leads down into a fairly large undeveloped part of India. Heavy Armour here is a real Fish on a bicycle situation and again Light Infantry is likely to serve you much better.

    I would also like to raise a point of cost and value for money. Does the US get the value from making all its Infantry Divisons Heavy Mechanised?
    I would guess that not all Infantrymen are best suited to this style of Storm Trooping, and that putting them in this configuration is an expensive option that does not produce optimal results.

    Sorry If I seem to rambling and incoherent, but I am tired and suffering constant interruption, so I had better try again later:(
     
  7. Norfolk
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    Norfolk Junior Member
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    You're making good enough sense SampanViking, and the only exception to what you have said so far that I would make is the far west of China, especially throught the Dzungarian Gap to the steppes of Central Asia and its oilfields. This is where Heavy forces would be very useful, potentially.

    Besides, I know a little about interruptions - I've got relatives over right now, and it's been a bit disruptive the last few hours.
     
  8. Norfolk
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    I've recently skimmed parts of a paper for the US Army War College Strategy Research Project written in 2002 by Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur W. Connor, Jr., entitled "The Army and Transformation 1945-1991: Implications for Today". Basically, LtCol. Connor says that "Transformation" is but one of a series of what amount to ill-thought-out and executed fads or trends that have afflicted the US Army repeatedly since the end of WWII.

    http://www.iwar.org.uk/rma/resources/army/Connor_A_W_02.pdf

    The present trend, started back in the late 1970's to move increasingly to lightly-equipped, rapidly deployable forces with the defence of the Near East oilfields principally in mind (in addition to extant Army Airborne Forces and the USMC Marine Expeditionary Forces) and has been accelerated and magnified over the last decade with the Striker Brigades (leading up to something more definitive planned for a decade form now). But as Connor says, neither these formations are any more capable of rapid-deployment and full support by air than their predecessors in the 1950's and 1960's were.

    He gives the example of the US intervention in Lebanon in 1958, when despite having formal priority for Air Force airlift support, the US Army was unable to get any of its Continental US-based Strategic Army Corps formations there because of insufficient strategic airlift, and the US Army scrambled to get troops stationed in Germany to Lebanon. In the event, the USMC actually carried out the operation.

    And this example doesn't even involve facing an enemy with substantial "Heavy" formations. The events leading up to the Coalition counter-offensive in early 1991 in the First Gulf War were a gift. The US Air Force managed to get the 82nd Airborne Division to Saudi, and were joined shortly by the USMC. No Light Infantry formations (which were designed especailly for this task). The Iraqi Army and its Heavy formations never attempted to seize Saudi with its huge ports, airfields, and bases stocked with pre-positioned US equipment and supplies. If they had during the first few weeks after invading Iraq, the Airborne and even the few Marines there would have been very hard-pressed to stop them with out Heavy US formations present in strength (not one or two "Combat Teams" of a few platoons each).

    Light formations have their uses, as both SampanViking and Gollevainen have pointed out, and this is principally in areas where the terrain or the climate (or both) are so extreme that Heavy (Armoured/Mechanized) formations are of little or no use in them. Both the Styker Brigades and the Light Infantry Divisions are noticeably weak in heavy and even medium anti-tank weapons (bad enough in the case of the Light Divisions, but even stranger in the case of the Motorized Brigades). But in areas (like the Near East/Middle East oilfields) Heavy formations are king, and even if you can get Light or Medium formations (like Stryker Brigades) to face an enemy with Heavy formations in time, you shouldn't reasonably expect to win, or even necessarily to hold out long enough for the Heavy formations to arrive in time in strength to decisively engage the enemy.

    And it makes little sense to have Light and to create Medium formations in addition to the existing Airborne and Marine Divisions that already specialize in this sort of work when you may or may not have the strategic airlift to move them to where they need to go and keep them supplied anyway, especially whern they can't effectively deal with Heavy enemy formations if they get there. In the middle of Page 26, Colonel Connor makes the simple but very clear observation that

    "The end result of the current push to get a lighter Army to the fight quickly, is the Transformational equivalent of getting Custer to the Little Big Horn faster."
     
    #18 Norfolk, Sep 24, 2007
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2007
  9. zraver
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    zraver Junior Member
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    The great plains is hardly plains or great. It effectively starts on the North German plain as the Rhine is a major barrier to any Soviet attack. heading east there are major rivers at regular intervals Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Oder, Vistula, Dneiper, Dniester, Volga etc. The area is also funneled by mountains beginning in Bavaria and extending east into the Balkans on one side and a shortage of good ports or terrain along the Baltic coast (both of which are also natural redoubts force harassment forces) and has one of the worlds largest swamps in the middle forcing an attacker to divide his forces. Plus there are several major population centers that act as huge road blocks as all the roads lead to them and radiate from them. The are also differing rail gauges so supplies moving East have to be trucked.

    This is why no real thought was ever given by NATO (AFAIK) into driving East farther than Poland.
     
  10. SampanViking
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    SampanViking The Capitalist
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    I think that is rather more a desire not to get stuck in a Russian quagmire (with or without the total Nuclear response) Previous expeditions (1812 & 1941) have fared rather poorly!
     
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