Tuesday, 29 November 2005

The Right Way, The Wrong Way, and the Army Way

From The Australian :
Australia's army will be restructured into nine highly flexible "battle groups" capable of being rapidly deployed to wage war or perform peacekeeping duties under a $1.8 billion plan to be put to cabinet's national security committee tomorrow.

The radical overhaul, the biggest transformation of the army's organisation since World War II, would see land forces boosted by an extra 2500 combat troops - almost 10 per cent - by 2012.
It will signal a major shift from the army's existing organisation, based on light infantry battalions of between 750 and 800 soldiers.
So instead of having a miniscule 9 battalions, we'll have 9 battalion-sized Kampfgruppen instead.

In practice, Australian forces committed to large-scale warfare have always been "combined arms" forces like this: a battalion of infantry would sometimes "lose" a company of infantry, and "gain" a company of tanks. Or just have the tanks added, the tank battalion being split up so several battalions each had a share. This can be taken down to a very low level: a company of tanks might have a platoon of infantry attached, and so on.

The main effect is to complicate the logistical situation, but also to make it more effective. Tanks (with their appropriate mechanical, electrical and so on support) will be "organic" to each battalion. No more light-infantry-only units, valuable those these are in rough terrain, such as cities and jungles.

Because experience from Vietnam through to Iraq has shown that combined-arms teams are just more effective in most roles, and at least as effective in others.
The planned changes would see each new "battle group" -- about 750-strong and based on current battalions and regiments -- equipped with all the assets to wage war in the 21st-century battlefield, including artillery, tanks and helicopters.

New deployable army formations -- ranging from the battle groups to the smallest four-man "fire team" -- would be a great deal more lethal and nimble, better protected, and more adaptable than the army's existing five mainstream infantry battalions.
Plus the 4 others, the 2 existing mechanised cavalry battalions, the armoured infantry battalion, and the tank battalion.
The army's goal is to create two composite brigade-sized units, each consisting of 3000 soldiers, equipped with artillery, aviation, armoured vehicles and engineering support.

This would enable a brigade-strength force to be maintained on operations overseas simultaneously with a smaller battalion or battle group -- a key goal set by the Government for the future army in the 2000 Defence White Paper and not yet achieved.
Oh I don't know... the company-sized "intervention force" and the brigade (3-4 battalion) sized mechanised infantry "Rapid Reaction Force" that currently exist come pretty close.
Under the changes, the army would grow to about 28,000 personnel, compared with its current strength of around 25,500. The army already has approval to lift its strength to 26,500, but is struggling to fill recruitment targets.
And that's the problem. We can't even recruit enough high-calibre people to fill the existing TOE (Table of Equipment and Organisation).
The bigger force would allow the creation of an extra battalion or battle group, as well as enabling hollowed-out units to become fully operational.
Just how much of Australia's army exists mainly on paper? 30% possibly. That 30% is of course capable of rapidly ramping up to full strength, given the weapons and the trained troops. They've kept the vital infrastructure needed to become capable units, they just lack the manpower. And the spares. And the equipment. They do have the training though.
The army plan would also see all units "networked", with even individual soldiers given access to sophisticated communications and intelligence links.
This is the key: even squad commanders will have access to raw data from drones flying overhead: even a lance corporal will have the training and equipment to call down the Warth Of God - or a reasonable facsimile thereof, in the shape of GPS-guided bombs - on any enemy unit that's causing problems. And even a Sergeant will have all the reconaissance skills and equipment needed to keep High Command informed of just exactly what the heck is happening, as it happens.

In Theory, anyway. It places and enormous training burden on the troops. They must not only be fit as Olympic Athletes, they must be as skilled as Communications technicians, and as observant as plainclothes detectives.
The army plans to offset some of the cost of the restructuring plan from the sale of asset, including valuable property in the Sydney area.
The Army has lots of very valuable real estate, effectively national parks at the moment, old forts and bunkers and their surrounding lands, right on Sydney's foreshores. Sell even a small fraction, and a lot of monmey would roll in. Of course, a lot of virgin bushland would be covered in skyscrapers, and Sydney would lose a small quantity of its charm as the result. But this is inevitable, in the long run.
Army reservists are also set to play a more active role in the new deployable battle groups.
Good Luck with that. Unless in non-front-line support roles, logistics, engineering, communications and so on, they won't have the training. It takes years, not weeks, of full-time continuous training to be the type of "super soldier" that networked warfare requires. But with the increased "organic" assets and equipment reticulated to lower levels, more logistics personnel will be needed. So maybe it will work after all.

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