Monday, October 22, 2018

Making Infantry Great (Again?)--For a While

The United States wants better infantry, and this author looks to World War II for lessons.

Yes, it will be difficult to focus attention on the infantry given the competing needs of the rest of the Army and Marines.

And it is also true that green or ill-trained infantry die all too easily at the front. Nor can veterans remain for too long in combat before PTSD takes them out of the fight.

Indeed, as British experience with their well-trained and highly experienced volunteer infantry in World War I demonstrated (when the Germans ran into them in 1914, they believed the high volume of accurate rifle fire from the British came from a lot of machine guns), in high attrition combat the system cannot replace the infantry with similar quality troops. British infantry never regained their initial edge in the face of mass conscript German armies.

So while I think we must train our infantry differently to maintain dominance over enemy troops, militias, or insurgents who will close the quality gap with technology, that won't be enough unless we win a war quickly.

Of course, the same technology that helps enemies match our own marksmanship currently achieved with training will help our effort to send replacements to the infantry.

Although ideally, replacements will be sent to units out of the line to be absorbed rather than funneled in like replacement parts while the unit is at the front. But who knows if we will have the number of units to afford that better practice.

But the attrition makes it important to seek ways to reduce casualties among the infantry when they aren't being used as infantry. This is far different than "force protection"  measures that withhold infantry from doing their job.

The obvious solution to win a war fast before infantry replacements are needed is nice work if you can get it, of course. But we can't count on it.

The sad truth is that even if we succeed in training, organizing, and equipping better infantry, with a long enough war and high enough attrition the quality of the infantry will go down over time.

Making infantry great is a good thing to do. But we must also consider how we fight when the infantry quality goes down as it must in any serious ground campaign.

Hello artillery.