After my Kyiv Post article I had some requests to write more about some of the things I said. It was obvious that this was needed as some of the criticism showed that the ideas and terms were not all really understood.
Mobility can be looked at in several ways. One is the ability to deliver troops far away for operations in places like Iraq. I was not talking about that. Usually to do this you have time to plan and organise things. The mobility I want to describe is the ability of headquarters and troops to move quickly and face a serious Russian attack. This need has been highlighted not only by me. In our context it means Russia has the initiative and time is vital. Troops have to move from one place to somewhere else and deploy in a defensive position or immediately deliver a counter attack. Before getting orders to move, the troops may already be in the front line or they could be in the rear in barracks, on exercise or in a training camp. In all this I will write primarily about the Brigade level as this is the realistic size needed to have a serious effect.
The first thing to understand is that moving a brigade on the railways is not an answer if defensive troops are needed immediately. It is simply too slow. Trains must be ordered and preplaced with the Ukraine railways staff and routes agreed. This takes days not hours. This transport is fine for exercises but not for really urgent operations. It may however be possible to use trains for reinforcement forces once the battle lines are clear.
Key to mobility is having a 24/7 headquarters at the national level with authority to move forces without politicians or general staff being involved. We are at war so the time for this discussion stage has passed. Now is the time for action. This means development of the MOD JOINT Headquarters and a strategic and quick thinking officer placed in charge. This officer would also be placed over the officer commanding the new JOINT headquarters for the Donbass forces, but would not interfere in the workings of this unless the security of another part or the whole country is at risk. If an attack occurred the MOD JHQ would have to alert all forces and move reserve forces to the likely points of battle. This would also mean activating air forces and deploying them in support of brigades.
The first key step for deployment is for the brigade commander, commanding officers and key staff to go to the likely deployment place and do reconnaissance of where they are going to fight (Usually called recce). They have to leave immediately they get orders. This means that today, they must be always ready to leave to do this task. People in the recce team must always know who they are, their tasks, and have practiced this all many times. The deputies staying behind must get the troops ready and move them to an agreed point where the brigade commander will rejoin them to give orders for the battle.
It is possible that the MOD JHQ may also deploy a mobile divisional headquarters in support (have we got any trained in reserve?), especially if two of more brigades are deploying to defend one area. The divisional commander will also want to meet the brigade commanders early to agree and coordinate plans. To save time the reconnaissance team must either travel in helicopters or wheeled vehicles. Tracked vehicles (techniques) are simply too slow. This means helicopters must always be sited near reserve brigade units that are likely to deploy quickly and must train with them. These helicopters also need the capacity to refuel if they have been working elsewhere first. The helicopters must stay with the brigade commander and under his command until he has finished with them
The recce teams must practice doing this work often or on the day they will be simply too slow or get of wrong. Commanders must recce and order two down. This means the brigade commander looking where he wants to place companies in defence, and commanding officers where they want to place platoons and observer teams. Company commanders must place sections and all key company weapons like anti tank and machine guns. Looking at "ground" and thinking how to deploy troops best takes weeks and months of practice. There is no substitute in the classroom or with computer war games for this training. Only seeing and walking on ground helps understand the complexities of fighting on ground. Time spent looking at real ground and real maps and then giving battle orders to real people works wonders for confidence. At this stage no-one in a higher headquarters must ever try to tell the brigade commander on the ground how to do his job, only what he and the brigade must achieve.
The next process after seeing the ground is the brigade commander and following this, commanding officers giving orders to troops. This will be done in a "hide" position somewhere. The troops driving forward must know in advance where this hide will be. Usually the brigade Warrant Officer and brigade Military Police platoon commander will meet the troops as they arrive and direct vehicles to their unit hide positions. Troops will often then need to refuel, take on water and feed, perhaps even sleep after a long journey especially if they have driven several hundred kilometres overnight. The hide position could be in a town or forest but it must be secure from the enemy. Camouflage for all vehicles is vital. Troops must be in a position to leave the hide quickly if the battle changes. They must always be prepared in a hide to fight if discovered.
Formal orders to a brigade take time. Time is needed to make sure that every soldier knows what is going to happen and what his place in the organisation is. They must know what to do it all goes wrong, and even more important, what to do if it is going well. They must know what to do when commanders are killed -as they will be. If the situation on arrival of the brigade is already really desperate then orders must be given directly on the fighting position or immediately before the counter attack. Orders may have to be given on the radio – sometimes in code. But doing this to all levels is a most difficult skill to get right and also takes very much practice.
Then the troops deploy to the battle positions. This is where the serious physical work begins. Troops must expect to dig trenches for each two to three men. They also have to lay mines and place wire. They must have the tools, the food and the water for extreme exercise that may take 48 hours or more. The soldiers need engineer support to provide sandbags, wire, mine laying, digging tank ditches and also getting tanks and artillery guns underground as much as possible. Enemy artillery will take no prisoners. There can be no waiting for this engineer support, nor can engineers "turn up on the day". They must be part of the Brigade team and working together all the time.
At the same time anti tank forces and artillery observers must be put forward as a screen towards the advancing enemy to ensure the main body of our troops are not caught unawares whilst they prepare the main position. The forward teams may be there for several days so they will need to be properly logistically supported and able to use indirect fire for protection if they need to evacuate back to the main position. In some battles in history like Imphal and Kohima, the sent forward artillery observers have remained behind the enemy advance and continue calling for fire until they are captured or killed. Whilst they are forward the screen troops also need someone to dig their main fire trenches for them. Digging two trenches is a severe physical test for any person and needs practice and deep levels of strength and fitness.
Like engineers, artillery is a vital part of the brigade team. Artillery observers must live and work with the brigade units and have the same types of vehicles and radios. The artillery commander is the key adviser to the brigade commander and they both must work and train closely together in peace and war. The artillery commander commands the allocated guns and air defence, manages the mortars, decides on the surveillance plan, and is the crucial link to all air support. For this he may also have an air force officer in his team who manages the coordination for all air support.
The brigade headquarters must be as mobile as the units. It must have staff that can move, set up and work in quick time in buildings, tents or in the brigade vehicles. They will have to plan the moves, organise coordination with other nearby units and work with higher headquarters for what will happen next. They must do this usually without the commander who is on the ground checking progress of the defence or positioning troops for a counter attack. The brigade chief of staff must be one of the most confident and highly trained majors of his generation as he must run the headquarters alone without guidance. It needs to be a major as lieutenant colonels are already too old and slow for fast paced battle thinking and communications.
It is vital that mobile brigade troops have a proper logistic tail. The brigade logistic unit must be able to carry and supply all the ammunition, food, fuel, water, batteries, spare uniforms, engineer stores and vehicle spares the brigade needs for at least three days of hard battle. They must be able to recover broken armoured vehicles and make emergency repairs to all brigade vehicles and major equipments. They must have a strong medical team capable of lifting casualties to hospitals in quick time. They must have a clear ability to protect them selves and all the brigade vehicles and drivers left behind the main position. There is no time for asking for help or asking for volunteers once deployment starts. The brigade must also have its own power generators for the headquarters communications, stores lighting and for running maintenance equipment.
The brigade must always be prepared to move again to another position. In the Second World War as the Germans advanced across France and Belgium, some brigades were moving and deploying to defensive positions every night. In the second battle of the Ardennes my artillery corporal step father was in a brigade that drove from Southern England to the Ardennes in two days. They left barracks in two hours from the order to move. They arrived, deployed the guns and went immediately into combat against the Germans. That is mobility
Gaining this collective team organisation and skill takes much time and practice. It turns the brigade from a collection of units into a single fighting organism. It cannot be learnt by living in tents on a training area, by a simple move by trains or talking about it. It must be repeated and repeated as a drill until it is second nature – and Lessons Learned and good staff support from above repairing problems immediately is fundamental to progress.
All these preparations are vital before the brigade can meet Russian armoured advances on equal grounds. But simply being defensive will only buy time. At some stage the enemy must be attacked, pursued and defeated. To do this requires practice of attack and pursuit drills at company, battalion and brigade level. This needs a bigger and better training area than now. The government should consider either compulsory purchase of another 2000 sq kilometre of land next to a current training area or pass a law that allows the military to train anywhere, as British and Belgian troops used to do in the cold war days in West Germany. The MOD pays the damage. However mush this range will cost it is still much cheaper than losing.
By Glen Grant for Censor.NET