The View From Olympus: Helping the Infantry

Although former Marine General James Mattis proved a disappointment as Secretary of Defense, he began one initiative that deserves to continue.  Called the Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF), this joint Army-Marine Corps program is aimed at improving the effectiveness and survivability of the men who do most of the dying in combat, the infantry. Such an effort is long overdue and deserves substantial funding, as Secretary Mattis intended.

However, as presently conceived the CCLTF has some problems. They begin with a misplaced focus on improving squad lethality.  Lethality and effectiveness are not the same thing. In maneuver warfare, including maneuver tactics at the small unit level, most of the enemy end up prisoners, not dead or wounded. Modern, i.e. Third Generation, tactics are not “close with and destroy”, much less “ bombard and attrit”. Rather, as demonstrated by the German infantry in 1918, they are tactics intended to “bypass and collapse”.  If you are constantly appearing in your enemy’s rear and encircling him, he tends to give up.

From this perspective, I found it dismaying that none of the papers I have seen about the CCLTF have discussed the first requirement for helping our infantry, namely modernizing our infantry tactics and training. Modern tactics means at the very least adopting the “infiltration tactics” of the German infantry of 1918. Ideally, we should go beyond those tactics and adopt their more developed form, Jaeger or true light infantry tactics (what the U.S. Army and Marine Corps call “light infantry” lacks the Jaeger tactical repertoire and is really line infantry). Training must be in the new tactics, not the obsolete Second Generation tactics we now employ where the infantry’s main task is to call in remote fires. 

That points to another problem in the CCLTF’s current approach: it places little emphasis on expanding opportunities for free-play training. While techniques and procedures can be taught in “canned” exercises, tactics can only be practiced in a free-play environment where the enemy can do whatever he wants to defeat you. At present, neither U.S. Army soldiers nor U.S. Marines get that much if any free-play training. Changing that should be one of the CCLTF’s highest priorities.

Rightly, the CCLTF is not emphasizing new equipment; better tactics and training are more important. But the CCLTF can and should sponsor an experiment with one piece of equipment most of our enemies have and our infantry does not, the RPG. I have asked combat-experienced Marine commanders at the tactical levels whether our infantry is at a disadvantage in Afghanistan because we lack the RPG, and most have said yes. If we look at Fourth Generation, non-state fighters around the world, we see many if not most carry an RPG.  It would not be difficult or expensive to design and run a test where we put an infantry squad or platoon through a series of problems, once with their current equipment and once with that equipment augmented with RPGs, one for each man (with reloads). If the RPGs make an important difference, they are inexpensive and widely available. We could equip our infantry with them in a very short time.

The CCLTF is also correct in emphasizing the need for changes in the personnel system so our infantry units can become and remain cohesive. Unit cohesion is the basis for why men fight: they fight for their buddies. But cohesion requires one thing the CCLTF dares not discuss (but I can): that infantry and other combat units be all-male. If women are present, the men will not cohere because they will view each other as rivals for the favors of the women. In combat, they will drop the mission to protect the women. This is human nature, and human nature is always more powerful than ideology, including feminist ideology. Combat is the ultimate “real world,” and in the real world all ideologies fail.

As important as Secretary Mattis’s CCLTF initiative is, the regrettable fact is that with his departure, the planned funding is likely to be cut or vanish entirely. If that happens, it may still be possible to help the infantry with a “bottom up” effort. Recently, some company-grade Marine officers and SNCOs has informed me about the Warfighting Society, a group within the Marine Corps modeled on Scharnhorst’s Militarische Gesellschaft. It would be both appropriate and useful if the Warfighting Society would do as Scharnhorst and his colleagues did and take on the problem of helping the infantry.  What the system cannot do without lots of money, thinking individuals can do.  Anyone wanting to participate can contact the Warfighting Society here

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.