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Murphy's Second Law of Combat is: "Professionals' are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs."

Truer words have never been spoken.

There is a dangerous - and frankly, bizarre - notion that has been creeping into the Western psyche for the last twenty or so years. This particular pearl of twisted, acrobatic logic goes something like this:

Standing armies are dangerous to Liberty, are ridiculously expensive, encourage "foreign adventures", and really aren't all that capable, when it comes to winning wars. After all, that was the view of America's Founding Fathers, and they were generally right, more than they were wrong, so this must be the case. Therefore, we just need to forget about standing forces, and rely on Citizen militias, like in the early days of the American and French republics - after all, the Swiss and the Israeli armies are all or mostly militias, and they do just fine...

 

...Now, this argument is rightly laughed at openly by anyone with anything more than the most cursory knowledge of military history or science -- but the problem in both the United States, and increasingly in the other Western powers, is that few people study either subject. Indeed, it can be argued that the study of these subjects by anyone outside the professional military establishment is actively discouraged, with many institutions of higher learning being openly hostile to the very idea of devoting resources to such classes.

As a result, what had been the occasional comedic relief and internet meme fodder provided by certain political figures breathlessly ranting about the evils of bayonet lugs, "magazine bullet clips", and pistol grips on rifles has now taken on a far more serious dimension, as people who should know better are increasingly making dangerous attempts to use badly flawed historical references or simple dismissals and assumptions to prove their case.

While it is clear that armies can be dangerous liabilities to their home countries, as of the mid-2010's, few states in the world can be accurately described as being "military dictatorships". Nor has this been the case for many years. However, given the history of the past hundred years, a tyranny enforced at bayonet-point is a valid fear.

But it remains - or should remain - a remote fear.

The willful disregard of history, technology, economics, logic and psychology in certain quarters, especially in hyper-unstable times such as these is a direct result, in most Western countries, of two or more decades of confused missions, "mission creep", and shocking levels of mismanagement in defense expenditures; the United States is unique only in the scale of its own issues.

This attitude is typified - to cite just one example - among adherents of former US Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), who famously suggested pursuing every enemy from Osama bin Laden to Somali pirates using mercenaries operating under Congressional "Letters of Marque" -- in apparent ignorance of how such documents worked in the past, what the ramifications (legally, as well as internationally) could be, nor even the simple fact that there is painfully little incentive for anyone to pursue or attack such targets.

But that sidesteps the real issue, that being where these prospective privateers got their training and equipment in the first place.

To grasp this problem in full bloom, this author had it explained to him (from a completely straight face) that standing armies - and presumably, their training - were pointless, because all that training and equipment failed to prevent the slaughter at Omaha Beach, on D-Day, and that likewise, all the training and equipment in the world failed the US Army Rangers in Mogadishu, as well as the lack of victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and now in Syria...

...It is truly difficult to attempt to argue at such a level of "un-knowledge" (hooray for adding to the English language?).

To demonstrate this problem, let us engage in a thought experiment.

I propose a situation where two thousand people are assembled in a parking lot. We will divide them into two equal groups. These two thousand people are uniformly aged 18 - 25; are 90% male/10% female; are all in what could be generally regarded as "good physical condition"; and finally, all of whom are capable of reading to at least the eighth grade level.

These two units together, equal the manpower of two slightly large light infantry battalions. We will train each battalion for one year, at the end of which, they will fight. Battalion A will be trained the way citizen militia aficionados think they should be trained. Battalion B will receive a more conventional training regimen. Both battalions will have access to the exact same weapons and equipment.

Both battalions will be provided with teams of experienced instructors; but here is the first difference: Battalion A's instructors will be a grab bag of prior service veterans from various armed forces, while Battalion B's instructors will be a dedicated and experienced team of professional soldiers, working from a minutely planned schedule.

Neither group of instructors will accompany their battalions into the coming fight in a year's time.

How will this play out? We'll begin with Battalion A.

Firstly, Battalion A's troops will have to purchase their equipment from their own pockets. This will significantly degrade their individual supply situation, because they are from a cross-section of the economic spectrum. Modern military equipment is expensive -- it takes roughly US$3,000, as of 2016, to equip one person as a light infantry soldier with the most basic level of gear.

This also impacts their weapons: modern crew-served weapons (machine guns and mortars) are significantly expensive; the US military currently pays c.$25,000 for every 81mm mortar it buys - and there are anywhere from four to eight in an infantry battalion. Machine guns - from M249 SAWs to M2HB .50 - are no cheaper. And those prices are only for the weapons themselves, ammunition not included. Battalion A might be able to pass a collection hat, but they won't get more than a few military-grade automatic weapons. On top of this, Battalion A must purchase their own ammunition, for both training and combat.

Then, we get to training.

Battalion A's recruits are completely untrained. Their instructors all have experience, but both they and their recruits -- being unpaid -- all have day jobs. This means that they will train when they can, usually between two and four days each month. That applies to both instructors and students. As a result, only fifty to sixty percent of the unit will be training at any given time.

As well, Battalion A will need to rely on charity to find places to train, where they can actually learn how to maneuver around in the field. Also, Battalion A must rely on their private vehicles for both training and combat - $25,000 for a mortar is a lot of money, but that's only half of what a decent pickup truck capable of functioning as a "technical" costs, new.

Actual, "military-grade" vehicles are essentially out of Battalion A's reach.

Because of the loose structure of the unit, the troops will choose their own officers and NCOs -- sometimes, they will pick competent people, most times...not.

Meanwhile.....

Over at Battalion B, things are radically different.

Battalion B's instructors started by herding them all aboard buses. They then trucked them to a large, remote base in the countryside. There, they began a punishing, 12-week long training cycle, learning as much of the basics of soldiering (which is far more than simply pulling a trigger) as they can. Battalion B will probably wash out 10-15% of their recruits during this period, mainly because a certain percentage of the population simply doesn't mesh well with that kind of environment.

At the end of this 12 week cycle, the instructors give the troops a week off, to blow off steam. When they return, they begin a three week long advanced infantry course, where they fine tune the very basic infantry training they were given previously.

This is also where the instructors begin identifying those with real leadership potential -- with only a year to get ready, there is no time for a service academy, nor even full-length officer or NCO schools. The leaders the instructors choose will be cracking eighteen hour days, while their troops will be running sixteen.

After this, the recruits will enter a grueling, four month long training cycle, to learn the ins and outs of specific job fields. Finally, there will be four months of field maneuvers, trying lock down the specifics of complex operations, before going up against Battalion A...

So -- how will our hypothetical battle play out?

A lot, obviously, depends on the mission of each unit: realistic orders and goals from the unit's respective higher authorities will have an enormous impact on their actions.

But in most plausible scenarios, even if Battalion B performs badly, Battalion A is going to get used like a floor mop: if they're lucky, perhaps sixty percent of their force will even show up. Those troops will have little coordination, as not everyone will have radios. Night fighting will be problematic, at best, since few of Battalion A's people could afford night vision equipment. Battalion A's casualty recovery and evacuation processes will be haphazard to non-existent, exacerbated by many of its people not being able to afford even minimal body armor or first aid kits.

In contrast, Battalion B - showing up with everyone who had not washed out of training - will likely be advancing rapidly, coordinating the movements of its subordinate units via radio. While many of its troops will be hit, their injuries will be greatly ameliorated by having everyone in body armor. Some of Battalion A's squad elements might have some level of success (and, being fair, possibly spectacular success), but nowhere near enough to affect the outcome: Battalion A gets creamed, ninety-nine times out of a hundred...

But why? Why should this be so?

In a word: Taxes.

Battalion B was equipped, trained, housed and paid by a government that took in enough money to make this happen. Just how much money are we talking about?

Conservatively speaking, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-100 million dollars...and that's running on an extremely tight budget.

As of 2007, it cost the United States Marine Corps approximately $52,000 to "basically train" a single recruit over an eighty-six day training cycle. Add in an additional nine months of training, plus meals and graduated pay for troops and instructors, and you can easily multiply that by six -- in excess of $300,000, per person...

...On top of the $50-100 million for the minimal amounts of arms, vehicles, equipment, ammunition and expendable items a battalion would need to enter combat with.

Troops buying their own gear, and providing their own training, simply doesn't work for any but the most basic of military functions, and hasn't, since at least the year 1900.

Now, a charge of bias could be leveled, here, that the author - a product of, and firm believer in professional, standing forces, supplemented by properly trained and equipped draftees- deliberately weighted the results of this hypothetical battle in favor of the big-government supported force. That is a valid concern, which will now be addressed.

When the "small government/citizen militia" advocates seriously suggest measures like these, they invariably cherry-pick data, and cite examples well out of context to prove their points. Favorite examples include the US Army Rangers' disaster in Mogadishu, and the examples of the Swiss and Israeli use of largely militia forces.

What they avoid mentioning are things like the lopsided numbers (90-odd Rangers vs c.3,000 Somali militia, with the Rangers inflicting at least 500 casualties, or more), as well as the fact that the Swiss and Israeli economies both stop dead if a large-scale call-up occurs. As well, the fact that both nations employ compulsory service for most of their citizens, in addition to maintaining comparatively large standing bodies of troops, is rarely mentioned.

Even in the United States, the various State National Guards do not operate this way: their recruits attend Regular Army basic training and schools, just like Regular Army recruits -- although there may be long delays between schools.

In point of fact, no one outside of Third or Fourth World tribal militias even attempt to train forces using the weekend method...

...Because, again, it just doesn't work.

The point must be driven home, that this dangerous set of beliefs is not merely a beer and pretzel thought experiment, nor a set of hypotheticals discussed over gallons of coffee in a cafe.

Armed, equipped and trained citizen militias are a vital component, and are essential to the protection of a people and a nation. But they can only exist in concert with a large, well-trained, well-equipped -- and yes: expensive -- standing force. Gary Hart was wrong to promote otherwise in 1998, Ron Paul was wrong to promote it in the last fifteen years, and their adherents are wrong to promote it, today.

The Universe is not static; things change. You adapt the the changes or you get run over.

[NOTE: Edited for typographical errors and minor additions, 9-22-2016]



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