Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

In future ground war, light infantry will be alone and unsupported on the battlefield

So argue two Marine officers in an interesting article in the March issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.

Paratrooper assumes a security position during a tactical exercise
Paratrooper assumes a security position during a tactical exercise

Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on Mar. 20. 

So argue two Marine officers in an interesting article in the March issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.

In future war, aver Majors John Kivelin III and Travis Onischuk, anything detectable — tanks, artillery, big vehicles — will not be able to survive on the battlefield. Thus, they say, infantry will have to fight without supporting arms. As they put it, “We likely will see the end of tanks, artillery, and other equipment.”

Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on Mar. 20. 

So argue two Marine officers in an interesting article in the March issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.

In future war, aver Majors John Kivelin III and Travis Onischuk, anything detectable — tanks, artillery, big vehicles — will not be able to survive on the battlefield. Thus, they say, infantry will have to fight without supporting arms. As they put it, “We likely will see the end of tanks, artillery, and other equipment.”

They say this will be caused by two things we already are seeing: universal access to ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), and non-line of sight precision-guided munitions.

They argue that the Marines need to reorganize their infantry somewhat. They basically want to add scouts, reconnaissance, signals surveillance, counterbattery, unmanned aerial vehicles, and missiles to the existing infantry company. It would be a small, agile unit with the skills and fires of a battalion.

This reminds me a lot of the experimenting the Army did when it was learning how to use the Stryker in the late 1990s. Basically, Jim Dubik, the general leading that work, was thinking about how infantry captains would have on hand the assets that a brigade commander or division commander used to have — indirect fires, aviation, and precision fires.

That said, I do wonder how new this situation is. Is it really that different from the infantry of World War II, which could use radios to call for indirect fire, had anti-tank weapons, and options for attack — mechanized, airborne, and amphibious — to further perplex the enemy?

(Side note: The authors also say that future military units are going to have a lot more discipline when it comes to smartphones and such, which they note “generate electro-magnetic discharges [that] paint a target” for enemy signals surveillance teams. I agree with them, but I would extend the warning further to cover visitors to units. Indeed, if I were an enemy commander, I would aim to find out the signals emitted by reporters using satellite phones. Any time more than two or three of those opened up at once, I would send a scattering of anti-personnel rockets down on those emitters. The reason is that two or three operating simultaneously might indicate that they just interviewed a general or other key person, and are now sitting outside his tent to contact their home offices.)

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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