- 04/07/2017 at 00:33 #66394
In lots of ways, modern combat hasn’t changed much from WWII, Korea and Vietnam, most of which is the same technology, albeit enhanced or better developed in some ways. However, there are some differences, mostly technology driven.
What are the key battlefield changes that make “conventional war 2017” USA / NATO v. Russians / proxies different from the Cold War era?
I’m thinking that night vision gear, infra-red, Blue Force Tracker / Communications gear has improved a lot and is much more common. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are also making inroads, which adds additional tactical snooping possible.
What other items make today’s battlefield different from 20 years ago or so?
Is the contemporary battlefield a lot more deadly? If so, what does it and what are the counter-tactics for it?
My key issue is adapting a WWII set of rules to contemporary fighting. I’m sure tech will matter, but how?
Thanks!04/07/2017 at 02:44 #66400kyoteblueParticipant
Medic’s /Corp Men at the squad level , not tech but we now save personnel who would have died 20 years ago.05/07/2017 at 02:55 #66490
Thanks Tim, this is the sort of thing I’m thinking about.
The question is in a peer combat, how close will it be between us and say the Russkies or their proxies? I assume we’ll have an edge overall, but they could achieve parity in some cases, and superiority in a carefully developed attacked [occasionally].05/07/2017 at 11:44 #66504MartinRParticipant
I have a couple of pals who get paid to think about this stuff for a living, and the fundamental message is that warfighting in 2017 is very different to 2007, let alone 1987.
There are a number of technological innovations which change its nature – gps, secure and reliable battlefield comms, remote weapons systems like drones, precision munitions, cyber warfare. The importance of gps cannot be overemphasised, as for the first time in history commanders know where their troops actually are on the battlefield (by and large).
The nature of war has also changed, it is now predominantly fought in urban environments in the presence of civilians, with far lower troop densities and the boundary between regular forces, irregular forces, subversion and covert ops is extremely blurred, and cyberwarfare extends the battlespace into all sorts of new directions with all sorts of new possibilities for deniability.
Russia, China and the USA are already perpetually ‘at war’ through their proxies and cyberspace in a struggle for global dominance, but not using tank armies. Ukraine has plenty of experience of the being on the wrong end of modern war, including cyber weapons and insurgency.
From a gaming point to view of course, this stuff is all a bit tedious and ethereal. Hard to make an interesting game about the organised theft of intellectual property or subversion of elections.
"Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke05/07/2017 at 23:20 #66573John D SaltParticipant
Really? I’d have said warfare is much the same as it ever was, because warfare is fundamentally a human, not a technological, activity. War has been fought in urban environments, and among the civil population, for a very long time,and you already know that I (like Tom Rid) do not believe cyber warfare is a thing.
There were two major revolutions in military affairs in the 20th century. At the start of the century, the confluence of 19th-century developments — mass production and conscription, Bessemer steel, the internal combustion engine, Mr. Marconi’s magical talking at a distance, the submarine, the aeroplane, the spitzer bullet, nitrocellulose propellants and high explosives — combined to empty the battlefield and industrialise warfare in very much the model we have known it ever since. About the middle of the century, the rapid succession of atomic and then thermonuclear explosives meant an increase of explosive yield per weight of the order of a millionfold, and radar, rocketry and guided weapons meant that these could be delivered accurately enough to any place on the planet. At this point, total war began to look like a non-survivable experience for human civilization. All wars from then on were, of necessity, limited wars (which didn’t stop tens of millions of people being killed in them, it’s just that the people who did most of the dying stopped being young men in uniform from industrial nations). Compared to these two revolutions, technological developments in warfare since the end of the Cold War have been niminy-piminy footling little things.
I think the previous commentators have identified the main trends in these developments. More (Western) wounded soldiers survive injury now because the universality of small-arms calibres smaller than optimal (5.56mm or 5.45mm), and the developments in materials science that have given us ballistic nylon and ceramics, make effective combat body armour practicable. Products like Quik-Clot mean that casualties do not bleed out quite the way they used to, and much more emphasis is given to medical evacuation and rapid, effective battlefield surgery. This also highlights the fact that people are fighting wars very much less than “total”; often they are, to use a phrase I still find revolting, “wars of choice”. National survival is not in question, which fuels casualty aversion. Questions about how forces would fare against peer or near-peer enemies are therefore very difficult to answer, because we just don’t fight peers or near-peers any more. Indeed the mass of CBA and ECM and hydration systems and GPS and batteries and absurd quantities of ammunition mean that British infantry has been carrying so much weight that it effectively lost the ability to conduct tactical maneouvre, against an inexpert peasant enemy armed with small arms. Troop densities are not low because enhanced capabilities means modern super-troopers can control more ground, troop densities are low because the Treasury insists the armed forces keep spreading the dog too thin, and we can only get away with it because the threat is so low.
One would think that GPS was a colossal advantage, and it has certainly revolutionised training by making it effectively impossible for bullshitters to win the debrief by claiming to have been in places they weren’t. In battlefield terms, the advantage is not so clear cut. Logically one feels it should be a decisive advantage, but I spent many years of my professional career looking for evidence of some mechanism whereby “improved situational awareness” could clearly be shown to result in improved chances of tactical success, and never found any that I found at all convincing. I put “improved situational awareness” in scare quotes because 90% of the people who used this phrase really meant automated position reporting, which is not the same thing as situational awareness, which is something that goes on inside people’s heads. As usual, victims of technolatry had produced a technical solution to a human problem, and missed the point. As Graham Mathieson used to point out to people, shovelling more information about the battlefield is all very well, but “Everybody asks who consumes information; nobody asks what information consumes”, and, as Claude Shannon pointed out, information consumes the attention of the people who receive it. Just as business IT normally fails to transform productivity in the ways promised in the glossy brochures, so battlespace digitization has repeatedly failed to improve military performance as expected. In Afghanistan people found the issued sigs kit inadequate (designed for a quite different, more concentrated, more vehiclular war), and glommed together huge accumulations of ad-hoc IT systems so that fat-knackered static HQs could be filled with staff officers goofing at “kill TV” and adding nothing to the military decision-making process but time, so that the pace of operations was, by comparison with what had been done in Normandy in 1944, distinctly leisurely.
The place where technology does seem to have made a discernible improvement in battlefield performance is, I claim, not on the battlefield at all, but in training. The use of “laser tag” systems in TESEX (Tactical Effects Simulation EXercises) and the use of computer simulation systems in collective synthetic training have both done a great deal to improve soldiers’ training, which is, as it has always been , a decisive factor.
All the best,
John.06/07/2017 at 19:47 #66668John D SaltParticipant
Apologies in advance to those who’ve heard these stories before…
One would think that GPS was a colossal advantage
Hi John, I really can’t imagine how it would not be, especially in reporting contacts and calling fire missions to the FOO. I read maps very well compared to a lot of folks and made sure I knew where I was all, er, most of the time. A lot of effort and attention doing this is required by the commander, even if both you and loader are hatches up and the loader is observing and helping map read too. But again, my experience was peacetime.
My experience was peacetime, too; but at infantry pace one can take longer over the map-reading than in armour, and you can’t get lost as fast when you’re walking. I, of course, always knew exactly where I was, I was right here, but sometimes it was not altogether clear what had become of the rest of the Army.
I seem to recall a bunch of experiments written up from BATUS (Ex Medicine Man) where they ran simulated “digitized” BGs against non-digitized ones. An awful lot of the exercise preparation involved installing ingenious little low-cost GPS jammers on all the vehicles of the “non-digitized” BG, just to make sure that naughty soldiers couldn’t cheat by using their own GPS sets. As I recall the results indicated that armoured, armoured infantry, and mechanized infantry BGs still moved at the pace of a brisk walk, with maybe a 1 km/h speed advantage for the “digitized” case. Looked at one way, that’s not much; looked at another, 5 km/h to 6 km/h is a 20% increase. Times for passing messages seemed inexplicably bad in a lot of cases, and I think again it was the human factors that were making the real difference, rather than the technology. Assuming equal standards of training — and that is quite an assumption — then the best that could be said was that there was some evidence the digital gubbins might give you a slight edge. A slight edge is always nice to have, and the accumulation of a lot of slight edges might add up to a battle-winning advantage. However I think the difference between “real armies” and the rest (see Stephen Biddle’s “Military Power” for his well-argued view of how mastery of “the modern system of troop employment” is the decisive factor in combat success, dominating all others, including technological advantage) is so vast that any “slight edge” is lost in the noise.
As for the FOO, yes, I have long maintained that a simple “point, lase, and call fire from the sky” system would be a useful thing to have. A colleague of mine who served in Op Granby (he was the Coy Comd of the Fusiliers’ Warriors who got hit by A-10s) had a job after the war as instructor to the Kuwaiti Army. He was invited to stay on after his initial hitch, but refused, one of hs reasons being what he regarded as the highly dangerous atttude of the Kuwaitis to safety. They had some Chinese-built arty FC systems that, he said, could get steel on the target in very quick time. All the FO did was squeeze the trigger to lase the target, and press the magic button, and the combination of laser, GPS (or GLONASS or whatever) and digitized comms sent the firing data directly to the guns, and all the gun-bunnies had to do was twiddle the knobs to the setting given and stat loading shells. It looked good on a demo, but my pal was horrified by the attitude to safety — British Gunners would have lased three times to be sure, and there would have been an independent check on the data. The Kuwaiti attiude was that officers were never wrong, and therefore any check would be an insult. Still, done right, such a system might give another useful edge. But British FOOs have been able to get steel on the target very quickly for quite a long time, and as Parham pointed out in 1942, pinpoint accuracy isn’t that much of an essential if the target is a platoon position covering four hectares. When I was writing the MODAF models for FC BISA, I was surprised to learn from our tame Gunner that he reckoned his AS-90 battery would get shells landing at the target end slightly quicker using “steam gunnery” than they would using the digitized system. And the steel arriving on the target might still be a 155mm shell of exactly the same design as was used in WW1.
The real advantage of GPS for field arty, I think, is in doing away with the whole tedious business of surveying guns on to the grid (which was my Dad’s job when he was a Gunner). This also means that it is easier to “shoot and scoot”, and the modern way is for an AS-90 battery not to occupy a gun position, but to have a massive artillery maneouvre area (AMA) in which guns will move out of a hide, occupy a fire position, fire a rapid burst of shells (possibly using multiple round /simultaneous impact (MRSI) methods, which used to be a party trick in the steam gunnery days) and then zoom off back to a hide or to an ammunition point before the enemy CB fre comes down. Massively useful against an enemy with an effective CB capability, but otherwise taking a bit longer and eating up a lot more valuable real estate in the brigade area than doing it the old-fashioned way.
The use of “laser tag” systems in TESEX (Tactical Effects Simulation EXercises)
I had experience with MILES in the late 80s. As an umpire, I had a “god gun” which was supposed to activate the lights when we were radioed that either artillery was coming down or the overhead passage of aircraft were dumping ordnance. In Hohenfels, I found out that most of the American tanks had their MILES receivers turned off. Cheaters. LOL Wonder what MILES’ more modern versions are like?
I used to cheat on exercise a bit myself. One signals-cum-map-reading exercise I did in Exeter UOTC I remember we conducted entirely from a pub, having tuned our radios to monitor the teams of cadets actually out on the ground, and keeping a state board of the locations of the real teams and the notional position of all the “fake” teams who were really in the pub. In order to stop idle little cadets sneaking off to the pub, the DS had arranged a bunch of questions that could only be answered by someone standing at the location they had been ordered to, so we also kept a state board showing the answers sent in by the real teams, and used these as our fictional teams made progress round the course. As a final refinement, we jammed those real teams near to completing the course by broadcasting on their frequency. None of this would have been possible if some swine had equipped us with an automated position reporting system.
As to the actual benefits of automated position reporting, even the enthusiasts got a bit sceptical when, on one exercise a few years ago, the high-capacity backbone system (over which position reports were sent to other sub-units) fell over and nobody in any of the staff cells noticed for over an hour. Whatever situational awareness they thought they had, it wasn’t all that current.
But, these Yanks with their MILES off — they might have been cheating, or they might have been simulating the protection levels of the M1A1. Another incident that made me doubt the claims made for “superior SA” was when, in Desert Saber, “Rock” Marcone’s tank battalion collided with an Iraqi armoured battalion it didn’t know was there. The M1A1s simply shot the Iraqis to pieces in short order. Lack of SA doesn’t matter if you can kill your enemy at 4km and he can’t kill you, still less if your shots hit and his don’t.
Just as business IT normally fails to transform productivity
That does make so much sense.
I recall the story of the restaurant owner who wanted to know why his restaurant was not making as much money as it had previously. By good luck, he found a massive stash of security camera recordings going back ten years. A time-and-motion analysis of these gave him his answer; as PDAs proliferated, his customers spent more and more of their time reading news, texting friends, photographing their food to post on Facebook, and asking the waiting staff if they could take a photo of their party. This digitally-enabled futzing had doubled the average length of the customer visit, during which time the cusomers were not eating or drinking any more than they had ten years previously. I suspect a lot of Battlespace Management System (BMS) tools have the same effect of encouraging digitized futzing in staff officers. I am especially sceptical of the application of IT to military problems when the one place I think it could have very obvious and easy-to-realise benefits — logistics planning and tracking — was not selected to be in the first wave of BISAs.
And then there’s my mate Jim Barr’s princple which he enunciated years ago, which I call Barr’s Law Of Recursive Futility (BLORF): If you are smart enought to be able to operate one of these systems successfully, you are probably smart enough to manage perfectly well without.
If only defence procurement could procure capability, instead of equipment.
All the best,
John14/07/2017 at 02:14 #67447
I think these are some excellent points. As I consider upgrading my take on Neil Thomas’ “One-Hour Wargames” from WWII to moderns, part of me considers that all that may be necessary would be to reduce the nominal time from 5-10 minutes down to 3-5 minutes.
I downloaded the free version of Sabre Squadron. it is focused on the Cold War. The question for me is “what – if anything – has really changed since then and needs to be added?”
For conventional peer combat – say, a hypothetical encounter between NATO/US forces and Russkies intent on swallowing up another little piece of Eastern Europe – it certainly seems that UAVs will have some impact on finding local units locally. BFT/JCR certainly seems like it helps find your blue, and green forces, anyway, and that can be helpful. The use of electronics is all well and good, except that like any tool you can still botch using it, it can break or be calibrated incorrectly, or – guess what – an idiot could still be on the end of the decision and make an obviously wrong choice. Then of course there’s e-war from jamming to using.
Artillery seems like it may be a lot more deadly than it used to be, and airstrikes can also be pinpointed like never before.
But it is a good question…what will add interest to a wargame, and how would one use it for both tactical interest and fun?16/07/2017 at 13:45 #67614WhirlwindParticipant
As infantry companies and below train in a broadly similar way now to previously, then I don’t think there is any harm in using rules which treat them in a broadly similar way.
For a lot of the other kit, I suppose in many cases we don’t really know. We don’t know how survivable UAVs will be against near peers. We don’t know how much of the complicated electronic kit will be left switched on against near peers – I can vaguely imagine there being a situation similar to that posited for naval warfare, with lots of advanced gear not being switched on most of the time. Helicopter gunship survivability is unknown in near peer conflict AFAIK. Lots of the kit – and ammunition – is so expensive that we don’t know how long conflict can continue at that tech level. Night-vision gear is an interesting one: combat troops are much more effective at night because of better gear, but that conversely means that there is no “cover of night” to do resupply and reorganization and so on. I think one wise soul suggested that mech infantry might retain their full body armour if fighting from close to their vehicles, but true light infantry will have to ditch it because it is fundamentally incompatible with light infantry manoeuvre.
A lot – almost everything – will depend on the exact scenario. One can imagine forces tasked with making strategic gains very quickly, supported by a full-spectrum attack, but then offering a ceasefire before US aerial and naval might can come decisively into play.
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