Much intellectual capital has been expended on divining the perfect organigram and equipment fit of units, battalion/regiment and below. Most proponents go into great detail on tables of organisation and equipment (TOE). Their arguments for and against various points, while often interesting, seldom contain any principles or other yardsticks against which their veracity can be measured — or that would assist those tasked with drafting real TOE.
Can one draw up a list of principles, checklist-style, of factors that a TOE designer must consider when creating a battalion/regiment or less? If yes, can priorities be assigned? Would this only apply to equipment fits or also to organisational layout? The answer to the first two questions must be yes. The factors listed below, to answer question three, apply to both, but mostly the first. It is not a closed list. It can be assumed that the relative value of each factor will be dependent on the circumstances and the time. In alphabetical order, they are:
v Custom & Tradition
A custom is a widely-accepted habit or practice, often of recent invention, meant to fulfill a utilitarian or ceremonial function. A tradition, by contrast, is also long-established, and practiced with quasi-religious zeal. Applied here it refers to militaries retaining obsolescent or obsolete equipment or organisations for reasons of custom or tradition. The classic negative example is the pre-World War Two Polish military`s reliance on horse cavalry armed with lances in the age of the tank. A more prudent illustration is the cross attachment of, for example infantry and armour to form combined arms battle groups.
The US DoD defines doctrine as “fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.” To remain authoritative, doctrine must be constantly updated – and remain free of political interference. Failure to update doctrine results in forces armed or equipped to fight the proverbial “last war”. Political interference can be as bad, creating or deleting requirements to satisfy bureaucratic whims. One infamous example was the US Army`s efforts to develop a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun system, dubbed Sergeant Yorke, after the World War One hero. Despite the millions lavished on the project, the system could not be made to work safely and in the end it was abandoned on the spurious excuse that their was no doctrinal requirement for a DIVAD (divisional air defence) gun system. If there was no doctrinal requirement at the end of the process, had there been one at the start?
v Equipment available/on order
What a military can buy, have manufactured or has in store has a major bearing on how forces in the field are equipped and organised. The greater the technological prowess of the armed forces, the larger its support units and the lower its tooth-to-tail ratio. The more unsophisticated a military, the more tooth and the less tail it will have. By the same token, the more primitive a military, the greater a percentage of it will be made up of (foot-slogging) infantry. A sophisticated military tends to have larger headquarters and more technical support units and detachments than was the case 50 and a 100 years ago. Increases in firepower (see below) and decreases in the weight and bulk of equipment (also see below) have also had an impact on organisation. Technology also allows for labour saving. Autoloaders have allowed Russia and France to reduce the size of their tank crew to three from four. A new 105mm artillery turret recently designed for the US by Denel takes this even further: The system can be operated by a three man crew: a driver, a commander and a gunner. The turret sports an on board turret management system, which integrated with the inertial navigation unit, allows for gun laying and navigation without a manned turret. The automatic rammer can interface with an automated ammunition handling system, rendering the turret fully remote controllable.
War is expensive. Buying new equipment – or just maintaining what one has – is just marginally cheaper, James Dunnigan reminds us in How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare in the 21st Century. As a result, governments tend to buy less of, or cheaper alternatives, to the actual requirement. They also tend to procrastinate. British governments between 1919 and 1938 did both – and it nearly cost the country World War Two. However, The effort to re-arm between 1938 and 1944 did cost Britain her empire, her economy and her superpower status. It also cost untold soldiers, sailors and airmen their lives. Cheap is dear.
Another tale of woe is the Canadian Sea King replacement saga. The Canadian Navy purchased 41 CH124 Sea Kings in 1963. The helicopters at that time were state of the art and served well, being well liked by crews, fact-index.com reports in an Internet item on the helicopter accessed on October 20. However, as the Sea Kings have aged, they have become increasingly unreliable and hard to maintain. “Twelve have crashed, killing ten people. Each Sea King now requires over 30 manhours of maintenance for every hour flying, a figure described by the Canadian Naval Officers Association as ‘grossly disproportionate`. They are unavailable for operations 40% of the time. The Sea Kings are now widely perceived as unreliable, outdated and expensive to maintain, both inside and outside the service. In late 2003 the entire fleet was grounded (except for essential operations) for a few weeks after two aircraft lost power within a few days of each other. Efforts to replace the helicopters have been hampered by political considerations,” fact-index.com said. In 1992 the then-government announced the purchase of EH-101 helicopters to replace them. But in 1993 the incoming Liberals – under Jean Chretien – immediately cancelled the order (paying cancellation fees of C$500 million). In 2004, it was announced to public relief that 28 Sikorsky S-92 Cyclone helicopters, the latest incarnation of the BlackHawk/SeaHawk range had been purchased. The aircraft won out over the larger, three-engine EH-101 Cormorant, built by a British-Italian consortium led by AgustaWestland (formerly EH Industries) – to the surprise of nearly everyone: which brings one to the next point under this rubric: everything always costs more than expected. Fifteen Cormorants are already in Canadian service in the search and rescue role and it was widely argued that buying more would ensure commonality, ease training and “keep costs down”. Right!
On the 16th of this month, all but essential flights of the Cormorant were grounded because of the discovery of dangerous cracks on a tail rotor, the Toronto Star reported on October 19. “The first sign of cracks in the section that holds the tail rotor in place in the six-year-old helicopters was found on an aircraft in Newfoundland, it was reported. If the crack spreads enough, the blade will come off, forcing the helicopter to make an emergency landing. The crash of a similar helicopter operated by the British Royal Navy has been traced to cracks in the tail rotor,” the newspaper said. The grounding followed reports that the helicopters required much more maintenance than originally forecast – and that the extra work was costing millions. The Canadian Press (CP) agency said the manufacturer initially said the helicopters would require about seven hours of maintenance for every hour of flight. “But the complex machines have become a technical challenge, taking up to 22 hours in the shop for each hour in the air. The added hours have increased maintenance costs by at least C$3 million a year and forced IMP Aerospace, which services the helicopters on contract for the military, to hire and train 48 extra technicians.” The Cormorant is proving to be more maintenance intensive than EHI advertised,” says an internal military e-mail, obtained under the Access to Information Act. “It was a new aircraft, and a new design, and there were several things that were not foreseen that happened early in service that gradually were corrected,” Cormorant project officer Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Coulombe said in an interview: “They (the problems) were increasing the workload.” EH Industries has since revised its maintenance estimates upward, saying the aircraft initially needs about 12 hours for each hour of flight but the number will fall to about 8.35 hours as experience levels increase.
Another bugbear that raises its head here is that of “outsourcing” as a way to save costs. Why have chefs, shipyards or mechanics if these can be contracted at commercial prices? The Cormorant example again explains: In its report, the CP added that the maintenance contract for the helicopters was a further source of controversy: The “defence brass (overruled) the then chief of air staff, David Kinsman, who said squadron-level maintenance should be carried out only by military technicians, not by an outside contractor. Martin Shadwick, a defence analyst at Toronto’s York University, sided with Kinsman at the time, saying privatisation often provides meagre savings and can leave the military without vital skills (emphasis added).
The way to hell is paved with good intentions, the saying goes. Politicians and officials always promise they will give the military what it needs. They seldom do – and soldiers, sailors and airmen are left to carry the can. Military organisation and establishment tables then often reflect what could be wheedled out of a parsimonious Treasury. What is generally not realised is that in an atmosphere of “penny wise, pound foolish”, even this is a major accomplishment requiring much fortitude.
v Firepower ratios & Dispersal
At the outbreak of World War One the standard British infantry battalion had two Vickers or Maxim machine guns. The bulk of the infantry carried the SMLE .303 rifle. At the beginning of that war the British Expeditionary Force had 108 machine guns, mostly Maxims. A mere 109 Vickers machine guns existed. By war`s end there was 71,350 and a further 133,000 Lewis guns (LMGs) and 35,000 Hotchkiss medium machine guns had been bought for British Forces, according to Roger Ford in Machine Gunner: Tales of the Grim Reaper. In 1914 the standard infantry section was entirely armed with bolt-action rifles. By 1939 one rifle had been replaced with a Bren light machine gun (LMG), substantially improving the section`s firepower. By 1969 the same section was armed with nine semi-automatic rifles and a general purpose machine gun – again a substantial gain in firepower. By 1999 the section had been trimmed to nine men and reorganised into two fire teams, each armed with three assault rifles and a “light support weapon,” a LMG based on the assault rifle. The section became more flexible, but only with a marginal increase in firepower. By comparison, German parachute units, which contained numerous automatic weapons, including submachine guns (SMG) and FG42 Fallschirmgewehren (early assault rifles) had a firepower advantage over the British only matched by the latter in the 1980s. Mid-war Soviet divisions were often entirely armed with PPSh 41 SMG, making them lethal within a 200m range. Yet there is a flip-side to that coin: Lethality. SMGs using pistol ammunition are notoriously poor killers beyond a hundred or so metres, hence their speedy replacement with assault rifles in the years after World War Two. Firepower without adequate lethality is akin to vodka without the alcohol content.
Today all the small arms in the infantry are at least semi-automatic and, depending on the count, a battalion can have up to 70 machine guns (eight general purpose machine guns – GPMG – in the machine gun platoon, eight automatic grenade launchers – latter-day Maxim pom-poms, and 54 light machine guns – two per rifle section). In addition, the battalion fields several hundred assault rifles with sustained fire rates only slightly less than a machine gun.
Increases in firepower have generally had the same result – greater dispersal on both sides of the battlefield: Firepower, like technology, increases allows for reductions in manpower. Implementing such reductions, however, is generally stupid below sub-unit level. The nine-man German rifle section of 1944/5 had a considerable firepower advantage over the ten-man 1939 model, and was even more lethal, for it was organised around two MG42 GPMGs, not one MG34 – as in the early years. Yet it seriously lacked the redundancy in leaders, weapons and equipment found in larger sections, such as those of the US Marine Corps, that typically includes three fire teams. In combat there is no substitute for having leaders who can replace the fallen and men who can carry off the wounded without leaving sections and platoons combat ineffective. When a section or platoon reaches this state is a moot point. Suffice to say that the larger the unit, the longer it should take to reach that point.
The story of firepower is also the tale of battlefield dispersal. The musket era required the concentration of troops into dense tactical formations. Only in close order, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, in serried ranks, could the infantry of the time mass sufficient sustainable fire to defeat a similar opponent. In previous eras, from Greek hoplite to English bowman, concentration was the name of the firepower game. The advent of the breech loading rifle rapidly changed that, creating the modern “empty battlefield”. However, it took a number of bloodbaths over a 50 year period for the lesson to sink in. The US Civil War (1861-65) battles such as Gettysburg had already showed the need for entrenching defending troops as well as the awesome firepower of troops so deployed. Anyone doubting this should re-read accounts of Pickett`s charge, an event as magnificent as it was futile. Accounts of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the 1900-1 Russo-Japanese War and the Boer War (1899-1902) confirmed this – as well as the need for assault troops to advance in open order. The lesson was finally driven home with massive casualties during the first years of World War One (1914-18). Alas, the intellectual poverty prevalent in most parts of the high command delayed the finding of a solution to the problem of attacking defended field fortifications in the face of concentrated machine gun and rifle fire. The invention of the tank by both the British and French brought some relief, but it was Germany`s widespread adoption of all-arms infiltration tactics that combined specially-trained assault infantry, artillery, engineers and airpower that broke the stalemate through the attainment of local fire superiority prior to an advance by means of fire-and-maneuver.
v Logistics (including resupply)
Logistics has been defined as the science of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces…. those aspects of military operations that deal with the design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation and disposition of material; movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel; acquisition of construction, maintenance, operation and disposition of facilities; and acquisition of furnishing of services (JCS Pub 1-02 excerpt).
For centuries, military logistics was what a man could carry on his back, load on a horse or pile on a cart drawn by bullocks. In many crucial respects this has not changed. A soldier is often as good as his training and better than his weapon but is nothing without dependable resupply. This is why tooth-to-tail ratios, once one storeman, farrier or cook per ten men became inverse and is now generally ten logisticians per fighting man.
It is this logistics load that has to date deterred anyone from permanently combining, for example, armour and infantry at the unit level or below. The stress between doctrinal employment and corps-specific training requirements, let alone the load imposed by completely different maintenance regimes and parts sets have generally outweighed any advantages that might accrue to the approach. A variation on the theme can be seen in the US Stryker range: a series of vehicles all based on a common chassis to lighten the logistics load and promote interchangability of spares and parts.
Logistics is expensive and professional armies, keen to put more “boots on the ground” to use a currently popular cliché, are keen to bring tooth-to-tail ratios down. The perceived best way of “reducing the logistics footprint” is by outsourcing activities, especially maintenance, messes and some security functions to commercial contractors. Often touted as a new development that follows best commercial practice, it is, in practice neither. It is not new, and following commercial practice is not always good. Commercial contractors on the battlefield hark back to the Medieval and Renaissance-period practice of royal concessions for services. It was fertile grounds for corruption and other malpractice then and it is still be now. The Cormorant scandal also indicated that outsourcing mostly saves little and often costs much more than expected. Short of the application of martial law in a war situation, civilians can also not be compelled to serve in dangerous area and can protest through industrial action – thereby potentially creating a situation where critical equipment can be kept out of service at crucial times. The Cormorant matter also demonstrates that an over-reliance on civilian contractors leaves the military itself short on those crucial skills… As for following commercial practices, a brief reminder of the Enron, Worldcom, Masterbond and Tigon frauds should suffice. The market is not always rational, commerce is not always honest, ethics can be malleable and standards double. Business is about making money. This often becomes corrupted by business leaders to lining their pockets. Capitalism by hook or by crook. Today`s most corrupt industries are aviation, heavy construction (dam building, etc.) and defence – not necessarily in that order.
v Ordinary employment
This is perhaps the single most important factor listed here. The size, shape, weapons and equipment fit (i.e. TOE) of any unit or sub-unit as well as the level at which support weapons are attached are all governed by their “ordinary employment.” The number of machine guns and rifle sections in a company, the question of whether mortars should be organic to the platoon, company or battalion, for example, are all largely governed by this factor, rather than “nice-to-have” considerations.
“Ordinary employment” presumes that TOE will allow units no more, but certainly no less than they ordinarily require to function in their primary role. As such, it should not be confused with extraordinary or ad hoc deviations from the norm for specific operations, properly called “task organising.” The US DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines task-organising as the “act of designing an operating force, support staff, or logistic package of specific size and composition to meet a unique task or mission. Characteristics to examine when task-organising the force include, but are not limited to: training, experience, equipage, sustainability, operating environment, enemy threat, and mobility.” In plainer English, task organising is a mechanism whereby a commander gets to “cherry-pick” those parts of his organisation – and even from others – that what he needs to accomplish his mission. An infantry company commander is chosen to conduct a long-range patrol. After analysing his mission he may ask his commander for a few tanks, a section of engineers, a troop of artillery and an appropriate “slice” of support troops. This ad hoc force would be called a “combat team” in the South African military. Commanders can also elect to leave elements superfluous to the mission behind. Where this happens enough, such elements are deleted from the TOE. One example was the deletion of the standard two 105mm infantry guns assigned to every battalion from German reconnaissance battalions after the fall of France. The guns usually took too long to bring into action to support the battalion and when up front, often got caught in events, leaving it unable to render support.
Reasons why, for example infantry and armour are hardly permanently marshaled into the same unit, were supplied above. Yet, in practice, some such ad hoc arrangements endure. During the Namibian-Angolan conflict (1966-1989), one South African mechanised infantry battalion included a battery of artillery, a troop of air defence artillery and engineers as well as a squadron of main battle tanks for years – and was the better for it. 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, as the outfit was called, endures to this day in similar for at the SA Army`s Combat Training Centre at Lohatlha.
Other than these ad hoc arrangements, so-called cross attachments are also quite common. In its simplest form, a brigade consisting of two infantry units and an armoured regiment, when entering combat will adopt a battle formation that will see the tank regiment detach a squadron to each of the infantry battalions (making them “battalion groups” or “combat groups”) in exchange for an infantry company. The brigade would thus enter battle with three such organisations, each consisting of two infantry companies and one armoured squadron. Engineers and artillery can be added to taste to this stew.
v Weight & Bulk
Miniaturisation is the magic of the battlefield. From massive battleships firing thunderous broadsides to sleek frigates firing precision guided munitions. From heavy musket to light assault rifle. From spyplanes to unmanned aerial vehicles, some small enough to fit the palm of an adult hand. Miniaturisation and automation has led to smaller weapons and to tighter organisations and a reduction in the “logistics footprint.” Reducing the calibre of the standard infantry rifle from 7.62mm to 5.56mm in the period 1960-1990 not only allowed supply troops to move the same amount with less effort – and fewer personnel and vehicles, but also allowed front-line infantry to carry more rounds for the same weight – a crucial advantage in a fire-fight.
Despite a historic trend towards lighter and less bulky weapons, one must always guard against a return of clumsiness. Several “future warrior” projects worldwide have generated prototype weapons so obviously weighty, bulky and downright clumsy. However wonderful it might be to combine an assault rifle with an automatic grenade launcher and an artillery-like fire control system, the approach appears completely impractical and will leave soldiers with a weapon that is a jack of all trades and master of none.
The issues discussed above are not a closed list, nor is the end of this article the end of the discussion. Let the debate continue!
Infantry Armour Engineers Artillery Air Force (US)
Formation Division Division Division (Rare) Division (Rare) Wing
Formation Brigade Brigade Brigade Brigade Group
Unit Battalion Regiment Regiment Regiment Squadron
Sub-Unit Company Squadron Squadron Battery Flight
Sub-Sub-Unit Platoon Troop Troop Troop –
Sub-Sub-Sub Unit Section Section Section Section –
16 August 2004