Infantry Close Combat

This is a follow up to the excellent post on small arms calibres by monty, the number and quality of comments is also a big tick in the Think Defence box, cheers fellas.

As was recognised by Monty and many commenters the issue of ammunition calibre is but one part of a more complex machine comprising case, weapon, man, team members, training, logistics and a variety of other ‘stuff’. The best ammunition in the world is no good if it is not available when needed or those using it are not well enough trained to be effective and without proper tactics it is nothing but an exhibition.

So rather than repeating the arguments for an intermediate calibre I am going to look at a selection of wider aspects of close combat.

Lets start with a joke…

“I might be hung like a donkey but there is no need to bloody well treat me like one!”

It’s a joke I trot out every time the wife asks me to carry another shopping bag, when she has finished laughing, at me, not the joke that is, I pick up the bag and trudge to the car! On a supermarket car park its only a joke, but in Afghanistan, in 40 degree heat, another ‘shopping bag’ isn’t very funny at all.

The weight of equipment that an infantry soldier has to carry is ridiculous, 60kg is not unusual, even for relatively for short patrols.

As technology progresses, equipment generally becomes lighter as new lightweight materials are developed but this is rarely translated into an overall reduction in carried weight, we just seem to find new kit to carry or just more of the same. If you look at video and images of infantry soldiers in Afghanistan you can see the effect of this, they are trying to fight an enemy who wears a dish-dash, carries an AK and half a dozen magazines, whilst wearing bulky body armour and carrying a small armoury and the contents of a G10 and sigs store.

Compare these images of soldiers in fighting order in Afghanistan with similar images of the conflict in Vietnam, Burma, Aden or Dhofar. Have we surrendered our mobility for protection and equipment carriage, instead, fighting in marching order?

The subjects below attempt to look at effectiveness with an eye on weight reduction, its a long rambling post but as with so many areas I try to cover, it is such a complex subject that it is impossible to cover in any depth.

So apologies in advance if this is a bit disjointed.

Have We Surrendered Manoeuvre?

Every engagement will be different but taking the defensive aside most engagements will be a deliberate attack or counter ambush and there are many approaches to doctrine and tactics that dictate how each is handled whether that is the destruction of the enemy, being able to break contact and withdraw or forcing the enemy to withdraw.

There have also been many experiments with different section/platoon/company organisation and weapon distribution by UK and overseas forces. Some say the role of the light machine gun is key, with sections arranged to support it, others say this should be the other way around. Each configuration has its advantages and disadvantages and like the ‘great calibre debate’ there is no right or wrong answer, just differing degrees of compromise.

The government has been rightly criticised for failing to provide adequate equipment and protection for the armed forces. The press and public can relate to the simple subjects of body armour or boots so these become iconic items of equipment with tales of soldiers having to buy their own more grist to the mill. Personal equipment has never been a large an issue as it is now and speak to any serving personnel and, squaddy moaning aside, they will tell you the personal equipment is superb.

There is also an obvious political and human desire to reduce casualties and minimise injury, whatever we might think, politicians are human.

These two factors combine to create a corporate culture at the MoD that has removed the flexibility of local commanders and made the experimentation in organisation and tactics discussed above, very difficult.

With centrally mandated protection levels and more and more equipment adding to the weight an infantry soldier has to carry, have we been forced to rely on predictable tactics and the supporting capabilities like close air support, attack helicopters or artillery, to bring an engagement to a decisive conclusion?

If our rules of engagement are such that these offensive support capabilities are now increasingly difficult to justify and deploy, have we simply reduced the infantry to overloaded target practice for the enemy to take pot shots at before departing?

Unburdening the infantry would mean that instead of relying on suppressing fire to hold the enemy in place whilst indirect fire is organised that same fire could be used to enable a super featherweight team to rapidly execute a flanking manoeuvre, closing the distance and getting into a position to apply overwhelming and decisive shock imparted by speed and firepower.

Commanders in the field should have the freedom to make their own decisions based on the type of operation and local conditions. In some cases this might mean no body armour, or plate carriers without the plates, letting them make decisions without the fear put operational decision making where it should be.

Soldiers are professionals and its about time we let them get on with their jobs, they understand the risks and the corporate culture of the MoD, no matter what the political cost, needs to reflect this. The reality is that in the majority of cases full protection would be the order of the day but commanders must have the flexibility to act as they see fit.

However, scratch the surface of these questions and there is a complex and often conflicting array of evidence and opinion but ultimately, the complex relation between rules of engagement, equipment, weapons, organisation and tactics is something we should be exploring on a continuous basis.

What works against one enemy, in one location and in one conflict will not always work in another, flexibility and unpredictability is the key to success but there are common elements, shock and manoeuvre being but two but both are significantly affected by weight.

Can We Reduce Weight?

Or even, should we?

One response might be to emphasise upper body strength in training regimes but would this rob valuable training time from other areas and lead to a reduction in other necessary physical attributes, it is not as simple as saying more PT. British forces are incredibly fit but in seeking yet more strength and changing the approach to physical training would be simply treating the short term symptoms and not addressing the cause?

There are many approaches to reducing the fighting load of dismounted soldiers involved in close combat.

It is also fair to say the MoD and other military organisations have long since recognised the problem and are doing as much as possible to address it but sometimes these efforts are neutralised by a lack of funding, new equipment requirements, a lack of integrated planning and non joined up thinking. The speed which equipment is introduced, influenced by operations, can also have an adverse affect, as we know, things are never as simple as they might first appear.

In looking at weight the first thing to do is list what they carry, generally it’s bullets, bombs and batteries but water, food, medical supplies, communications equipment, demolitions supplies, access platforms, metal detectors and ECM all add to the list. Plus, body armour of course and even there is a debate on the trade off between protection against fragmentation, blast and bullets

Technology has its role to play but so do many other factors; doctrine, tactics and training are equally important.

I think that the answer to ‘can we reduce weight’ is ‘can we afford not to’

Weapons and Doctrine, a Complex Relationship

The Taleban are not stupid, they will probe for weakness, have shown great tactical skill and are seemingly immune to being dislodged from a position even by large calibre weapons. Putting down large volumes of fire to reduce cover, force a relocation in order to expose a better target or fixing in place whilst the big boys are organised is one of the reasons we seem to be carrying very large volumes of 5.56 and 7.62mm link. As good as Javelin is, it is difficult for an infantry foot patrol to use unless vehicle based or in a semi static location. Again, heavy machine gun and grenade machine gun are unsuitable for extended foot patrol work.

So, the foot patrol is left with nothing but a heavy weight of fire to locate and suppress, aided by hand grenades, launched grenades and various types of rockets. Add in the different calibres and natures of ammunition being carried and you can see how weights start to balloon.

If we have surrendered light and rapid movement for protection this,  also means we must have greater firepower, firepower usually means weight and so around the circle we go. The relationship between protection, mobility and firepower is of course as old as warfare.

I tend to think the pressing need for an intermediate round still uncertain from a lethality/range perspective but more so for it’s commonality (I bet you knew I was going to say that)

The key question is, would a single intermediate round, whilst heavier than 5.56mm, still result in a reduction in total weight of ammunition carried by an infantry section or platoon, all things being equal or better. i.e. can we have our cake and eat it?

What weapon/s and what intermediate round I will leave for others, it certainly seems to promote vigorous debate but suffice it to say, the holy grail is a single round that combines all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages of having two types. If we can get it right, a single weapon with a choice of barrel lengths becomes the next logical objective, a short carbine for vehicle crew, standard service weapon, light machine gun and a longer barrelled sharpshooter weapon for example.

Caseless ammunition seems to be a forever tomorrow technology with many significant challenges to overcome but plastic cased telescoping rounds are showing much greater promise and there is a possibility that these will provide the benefits of an intermediate calibre without the weight penalty when replacing 5.56mm.

As we all know, weapon weight does have certain advantages in terms of accuracy and with a more powerful round, unless recoil can be mitigated, this might become more of an issue. Producing a weapon that has the requisite reliability, maintainability, ergonomics, simplicity and accuracy is no small challenge but whilst the SA80 might now have the reliability and accuracy issues sorted, the others still present challenges.

We also have to consider the opportunity to maximising the benefit of greater long range/lethality/penetration, again, it is not certain that even with the advantages of an intermediate round we could actually make much use of it so any study would also need to consider a number of other issues.

Fielding a single round that is an acceptable compromise is only worthwhile if we can also reduce weight, both on an individual component basis but also across whatever organisation we chose to deploy.

The 7.62mm GPMG is now being routinely carried on foot patrols and as ever, being pushed down the organisational tree. Even if the new H&K version can shave some weight off it is still heavy and needs feeding with massive amounts of ammunition. It is being used more and more because clearly there is a need for it and we might speculate why this is but clearly something is lacking in our conventional approach, either from an equipment or doctrinal perspective.

We should not be afraid of experimenting with different sub unit organisations, should we retain the homogenous section or use specialist section structures based on task and weapon mix for example.

Shock and Awe

If we cannot change our rules of engagement, provide the professional with operational freedom or reduce weight with existing approaches then a complimentary approach might be to provide the dismounted infantry with a leap in firepower beyond small arms and a number of technology areas that improves response. This would hopefully reduce the weight of ammunition used for suppressing fire both from individual and support weapons. If what you carry is more lethal and you can apply it in a shorter timescale then the theory goes you should need less of it. Whether this would actually be realised in the very real and unforgiving environment of infantry close combat is another matter but surely it is worthy of investment and investigation.

In a reactive engagement, in response to an ambush for example, the first and most significant challenge is locating the position of the firer(s) and any supporting forces. Once located the information needs to be quickly and accurately disseminated to others so they can bring to bear individual and supporting firepower, for whatever reason.

Without location and indication all the firepower in the world is next to useless.

It is also an area that has seen surprisingly little sustained innovation or investment.

Two technology areas that have shown promise in meeting the location and indication challenge are acoustic shot detection/location and augmented reality.

US forces have used the well known Boomerang acoustic detection system for some. It is a vehicle based system that uses a microphone array to provide an indication of distance and direction, a reverse bearing. Attacking a networked vehicle convoy equipped with these and their customary heavy weapons is a dangerous occupation.

UK forces have trialled these but for some reason have yet to be fielded. Of more interest to this post is the UK manufacturer, Ultra Electronics Rifle Mounted Gunshot Locator system. Ultra have a great deal of experience in underwater acoustics and have applied this to land environment. Looking into the specs, its accuracy is claimed at plus or minus 7 degrees azimuth or elevation and a 10% range variation. These are early developments and now doubt things will improve, technical paper here and another brochure.

BBN, the manufacturers of the Boomerang system also have a wearable system called Boomerang Warrior and QinetiQ have the Ears SWATS, there are other manufacturers as well.

It is interesting to see the different approaches, wearable or weapon mounted.

Once the location has been determined that information has to be reliably distributed to individuals and any wider group that is relevant. This is traditionally done by pointing and usually, a lot of shouting

centre of arc, 200m, small tree, 10m to the right, grassy knoll!

Other means can include tracer rounds, observing fall of shot or even a smoke grenade or mortar. Augmented Reality (AR) or Mixed Reality (MR) is a visualisation technology allowing the user to see virtual information added over reality in real time, in our example, this would be are gunshot indication trace.

Make no mistake, military augmented reality has the potential to push a traditionally low tech activity into revolutionary new areas. In some regards, this is nothing new, aircrew have been using related technology for some time and the various future soldier programmes in the US, UK, France and Germany have all explored the concepts but only now is the technology sufficiently mature to start serious development work, in no small part to the civilian smart phone market. There’s an app for that might just be one of the defining milestones for infantry combat, have a look here for a few ideas, maybe Halo isn’t that far away after all.

Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality in Dismounted Close Combat
Augmented Reality in Dismounted Close Combat



Despite being a promising technology there are a lot of significant challenges to be addressed before practical military systems can be fielded, power usage, ergonomics and the dissemination of information across the infantry team being just a few.

Yes, these two technologies increase power requirements and drive up weight and isn’t that the whole point of this post, but if we can make the infantry force so much more agile and potent the need to carry huge quantities of weight and volume absorbing small arms ammunition is reduced.

If with a combination of technology and training we can compress the engagement time there is still a need for something more than small arms and that traditionally means high explosives, whether from direct or indirect weapons. There is, therefore, a need for greater self sufficiency, tailored effects and high precision for the infantry. If the use of indirect means is increasingly difficult then by definition, infantry has to be more self sufficient.

High explosives allow allow a group of infantry to apply a significant shock against the enemy and it is this shock which contributes greatly to achieving a decisive outcome. Dismounted infantry, without vehicle based fire support from HMG, GMG and other crew served weapons have a limited repertoire.

Grenade, extremely effective but limited to extreme close ranges

Low Velocity 40mm Grenade, a range of effects but range limited and unguided

66 M72A6 or AT-4CS type weapons, large warhead but cumbersome (7.5kg for the AT-4CS ILAW) and unguided with limited accurate range

Anti Structure Munition, again large warhead but large and heavy (10kg)

60mm mortar, wickedly effective and can be accurate but it is still heavy.

What characterises these systems is their guidance system, or lack of one. This means for a range of effects we need a high degree of training and they are the types of weapon that unfortunately most personnel receive only limited training on. Expertise is difficult to achieve and maintain and without it, because they are unguided, accuracy and therefore practical usefulness can be limited, needed many to achieve the desired effect. The shoulder launched weapons like the 66 and AT4 have their roots in the anti tank world so although multipurpose warheads are now available they do not have any air burst or selective effects. The ASM is an interesting weapon because it has been designed specifically for infantry combat against something other than armoured vehicles but still it has a lack of long range precision.

The ASM is based the 90-mm Matador (Man-portable Anti-Tank, Anti-DOOR) that Dynamit Nobel had developed for the Singapore Armed Forces. The 9.8-kg weapon, marketed internationally as the Panzerfaust 90, is designed for use in urban operations. Its multi-purpose warhead, designed by parent company Rafael, is effective against fortifications and armoured vehicles to a maximum range of 500 metres and in the delay mode the warhead punches a hole larger than 450 mm diameter in a triple-brick wall. The ASM for the British Army can be programmed before launch to achieve either a maximum breaching effect or a greater behind-armour effect.

Moving into the guided domain we have Javelin and NLAW. Both are highly accurate but still based on an anti armour requirement and arguably too large for foot patrol use unless there are vehicles in support.

As we find ourselves increasingly using larger small arms calibres because of extended engagement ranges, the accuracy at range limitations of the UGL/M72/AT4/ASM become more exposed. To compensate for the lack of long range precision the warheads get larger and heavier or again, we have to revert to offensive support and if these are being potentially closed down a gap is opening up.

The US have been experimenting and started to field a 25mm weapon (XM-25 Individual Airburst Weapon System) that might be a genuine innovation, at least they think it is worth a serious go. This weapon fires 25mm grenades that can selectively air burst beyond or above cover although some believe the size of the round may be too small, time will tell. With an effective range of 500 though, they are still inside the effective range of 7.62mm weapons and the newer medium velocity 40mm grenades.

I think there exists a need for a guided system that can place a grenade sized warhead directly onto a target approximately 1,000 to 1,500m away and so do the British Army and MBDA.

The MBDA CVS101 innovation stream includes the Sniper, Enforcer/Thumper which are shoulder-fired missile systems linked to a sophisticated target acquisition and guidance system. The Sniper system fires a 40mm diameter, 380mm long 0.9kg 1.5km range soft-launch missile with a 200g warhead, a standard 40mm grenade has about 30-50g of explosive filler.

MBDA Sniper
MBDA Sniper


The larger Enforcer anti-tank system weighs in at just 4.5kg, firing a 1kg warhead from the Thumper shoulder launcher. Enforcer can also be fired in Non Line of Sight Mode which I also think is going to be a very important feature in future operations. Range is said to be 2.5km in direct mode and 5km in indirect mode.

Compare these weights with the 18kg Javelin and it is clear that they will have a significant weight advantage for dismounted operations, accepting the smaller effects.

If we cannot make these systems light enough to carry in addition to a standard infantry weapon a difficult choice is presented. Does the firepower advantage outweigh the disadvantage of in effect, losing a standard infantry weapon in a finite section or platoon?

This is a tough question but in most Western armies the answer seems to be no, so we just load up the rifleman with yet more kit. I do wonder if reorganising a section to include a greater number of dedicated ‘explosive’ capabilities and fewer assault rifles is something worth pursuing, another long and complex debate no doubt.

There is also the role of the light vehicle mounted or semi portable systems in dismounted close combat. Many infantry operations are supported by vehicles and beyond the traditional SF GPMG or vehicle mounted GPMG/HMG/GMG there is a debate to be had about direct fire weapons. I for one would be interested to see a single shot, manually loaded, lightweight 40mm weapon using the cased telescoping rounds from the CTA FRES cannon that could be mounted on a Land Rover/Ocelot/ATMP/Jackal class of vehicle.

Finally, it is worth noting the advances in sights, rangefinding, environmental detection (wind etc) and the computational power available will also be an influencing factor in the discussion as will the viability of very small, semi disposable UAV’s.

Other Weight Issues

To compensate for an increase in weight we often have to resort to using quad bikes or even developing ever more complex and expensive exoskeletons, unmanned load carriers, the big dog mechanical robots real mules. This is not the answer, quads need fuel, maintainers and in the terrain in Afghanistan, often get bogged down or cannot traverse selected areas of terrain.

Other equipment includes heavy BOWMAN radios, ECM, Vallon metal detectors, night vision, laptops, non BOWMAN radios, charging equipment, first aid kit, FFD, water and the ever present batteries. This is before we even start looking at the different calibres and types of ammunition (link, ball, tracer etc), grenades, mortar rounds, rockets, PE4, ladders/gap crossing equipment and Javelin rounds.

Batteries seems to be a recurring problem, not only with the frankly criminal and well known quality issues with BOWMAN batteries that has now thankfully been resolved but also with the proliferation of types. The MoD has recently announced a series of improvements for batteries and now has a very effective integrated approach to power generation and storage but it masks the problem of too much power being required. BOWMAN is very power hungry, one possible means of reducing the power demand and hence battery requirement is to use UAV or mast/aerostat communications payloads. Like cell networks the power requirement is transferred away from the portable device. The ideal end state would be a TETRA/TETRAPOL network across our area of operation, thus allowing mobile phone style handsets rather than the heavy BOWMAN backpack we now use.

Could we reduce the need to carry so much in rations, water and ammunition if we had a better resupply system, more more numerous semi permanent fixed location, helicopter lift or precision air drop?

If we did have more numerous fixed locations it would support ground dominance and provide a basis for greater ground/radio coverage using towers and aerostats.

Training Has It’s Role to Play

The last time the British armed forces were dealt a rather shocking blow was the Boer War when so called irregulars were consistently outshooting the professionals. The conflict was a chastening experience and although the Army eventually prevailed it was at a cost of over 5,000 dead in combat and over 16,000 from wounds or disease. The conflict prompted the Haldane Reforms and one subsequent output was the Musketry Regulations, Part I, 1909. These covered the full breadth of activity from weapon handling to target identification which culminated in what was likely the most fearfully effective small arms handling anywhere in the world. It was often remarked that the Germans could not quite believe that the rate of accurate aimed fire they received was not from machine guns. Accurate fire at several hundred yards was not uncommon, no fancy marksman rifles, no optics and 15 rounds a minute with a bolt action rifle!

Here is a quote that is as valid today as over 100 years ago

High scores in range practices bear no relation whatever to the results to be expected under service conditions, even in peace time.

Perhaps we need to start training for realistic conditions as a matter of course and routine for all arms, whilst a reasonable argument could be made for the need to reflect a variety of conditions the fact is, we are more likely to be involved in Afghanistan/Iraq type conflicts than any other and our training facilities and locations need to reflect this.

There also needs to be a significant investment in equipment scales that match those used in theatre and an expansion of hot weather training facilities with greater use of modern simulation and range equipment and easier access to ammunition of all types.

This section does not of course say that training is not superb, because it is, but it, like anything else we do, can be improved.

Yes this will be expensive but at what price improving effectiveness?


This is a bit of a rambling post but the semi random selection of subjects is just to show complex the weight v mobility v effectiveness equation is. There is no right and wrong answer but one of the over riding goals for the MoD, legal and research capabilities must be the reduction in weight for dismounted close combat and increase in firepower beyond a new calibre.

Once that has been achieved we should avoid the temptation of adding yet more equipment onto the overloaded backs of the infantry soldier.

Make no mistake, the MoD is making great strides with personal equipment, reducing weight and improving utility but lets not be hidebound by bogus political considerations, uncoordinated thinking or overly complex gold plating.

If we cannot get back to the light order fighting of our not too distant forebears, we might just end up needing those Starship Trooper exoskeletons just to move out of the base.

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October 1, 2010 10:33 pm

The entire history of the infantry shows, that whatever the good intentions, any weight you save will immediatly be put back, by someone who will pop up with “They can just carry this as it will significantly improve their effectivness” and bingo, your back to WW1 french infantry being issued with 2 bottles of red wine each.

Paul J. Adam
Paul J. Adam
October 1, 2010 10:50 pm

There was an interesting piece in BAR a few years back, from the CO of the 1 Para multiple who had a bad day in Majar al-Kabir in 2003 (the same day the six RMPs were killed at the police station).

One issue flagged was that, at that point, body armour was at local discretion: the Paras had left their ECBA and helmets off, and credited the mobility gained for their ability to fight through and extract with few casualties suffered. Is that still an option for a unit commander, or is there a blanket ruling that every item of protective equipment must be worn unless permission from a 1* or higher has been granted in quintuplicate?

There is a serious issue, in that “casualties because troops didn’t wear their magical protective equipment” are obvious populist headlines while “objective achieved, aided by the mobility gain or the extra ammunition gained by leaving the heavy PPE off” are boring and unreported, and so there is a near-gravitational force insisting that every possible item of notional protective value must be carried and present, lest headlines appear that “Bungling Blimps Order Our Brave Boys To Leave Lifesaving Kit Behind”.

October 1, 2010 11:02 pm

I think I have already commented on the fact that we hobble highly fit troops with too much weight already on the site.

Small ATVs towing trailers are the answer for bergens. They can be made quiet enough and fitted with larger (protected) fuel tanks to last out a few days patrolling. May even allow for a patrol to actually “carry” more weight into the field. No reason why using KEVLAR and ceramics that these tiny vehicles couldn’t be quite well armoured.

I don’t think our Victorian forebears would have gone on extend patrol with out pack animals or “native” bearers.

I see that many of your illustrations depict FIBUA scenarios. “We” should be mounting RWS on hydraulic masts (in various sizes) to tackle targets on upper stories and over walls. This is a 21st century to fighting around these Third World urban areas. Not sending some poor squaddie up an aluminium ladder for a quick shuffty.

October 2, 2010 12:01 am

Ref: Ixion: “The entire history of the infantry shows, that whatever the good intentions, any weight you save will immediatly be put back,”

Yep trace that back to the Roman heavy infantry of the Legions being nicknamed “Marius Mules” because of all the kit they would carry on the march. However the upside to carrying a pick or a shovel, a haversack with some grub and various other tools was a doctrinal one – where ever the legion stopped to laager up, they could build a palisade protected camp, a veritable fire base.

So instead of looking at weapons, vehicles, body armour and other kit, perhaps we should be looking at doctrine, strategy and tactics. Why do we patrol on foot in Afghanistan, because COIN doctrine says you do, to get close to the population. Also aggressive patrolling keeps the bad guys off balance and prevents them planting IED’s – but there are other more modern ways of doing this, be it mast mounted CCTV, radar, etc or small UAV’s. Certainly not a replacement for getting “out and about” but a useful adjunct.

But when it comes down to it “light order” fighting might just have to be consigned to history for the regular infantry – who in my opinion should all be in armoured vehicles of some sort any way in this day and age. It maybe relegated to the ‘specalized’ light fighter, the Commando, Para or Gurhka – specially equipped and trained to undertake a special role.

There is also a societal / cultural question, which you mentioned in your paragraph on local commanders have flexibility. Western countries are averse to taking casualties. If you send in the Commando’s and Gurkhas to fight some bad guys in a mangrove swamp somewhere, and the nature of the operation means lightweight fragmentation protection or NO body armour at all is the ‘dress of the day’,what happens when politicians and coroners get involved in the death of Marine Smith, shot dead in a fire fight. What happens when his Mum is not happy that the local commander made a proper military decision to fight in light order, and she takes it to the gutter press ?

October 2, 2010 12:19 am

I note in Soldier magazine that there are adverts for what I shall term “bullet proof” boxer shorts……..

There is a parallel to the arguments about body armour and the reasons why some choose not to wear it. That is whether women should be allowed onto the front line because of the physical nature of being on foot in the front line. Those protesting for the latter to be allowed have obviously never been into the field. And it is the same with the majority of (those poor) distraught relatives who question decisions made in the field.

I have only played soldier on two occasions. Trudging around with an SA80, bergen (about 40lbs,) fighting order, and newish boots while being rained on for 48hours wasn’t fun. It was hard work. And ruddy uncomfortable. Yet compared to what the lads and lasses in Afghanistan have to put with it was a cake walk.

(I don’t there wish to sound like I am belittling the loved ones of those who have died in combat. It must be truly awful situation to be in and they all have my deepest and most sincere sympathies.)

October 2, 2010 12:43 am

X –

You make an interesting point. Two acquaintances from my time in the TA have been killed, 1 in Iraq, 1 in Afghanistan. 1 from a closely associated unit, and 1 from my old unit itself……

Both of them women !

October 2, 2010 1:03 am

The Rafael Mini-Spike is another guided, 1-1500m missile in development.

Mike W
October 2, 2010 12:08 pm

I have read in several sources that the Javelin anti-tank missile is being used in Afghanistan to “take out” enemy strong points or bunkers and in some cases even individual enemy fighters (although I am not sure how much credence to give to the last of these).

As you point out in your fascinating post, Javelin is a highly accurate weapon but it is based on the ANTI-ARMOUR requirement. The roles I have described above are NOT the roles it was designed for. The most important consideration, however, is the cost. Each JAVELIN costs £50,000, I understand, and the missile is not something therefore to be wasted on non-armoured targets at that price a shot.

Is the destruction/removal of bunkers etc. something that you envisage the new ASM as being capable of, or were you also thinking of the Sniper, Enforcer/Thumper missile systems being used instead Javelin in such roles? Or should a new weapon altogether be in development?

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
October 2, 2010 12:14 pm

Has the Army looked at actually using pack animals again? Though there are problems, they are true all terrain platforms and easy to maintain. In fact why not bring back mounted infantry if one extends the logic.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
October 2, 2010 2:16 pm

Lord Jim,

“Has the Army looked at actually using pack animals again?”

I’m certain that UK forces employed a few mules in the Balkans, purely because of the difficult terrain. Although, I’m not sure how successful this was and how many animals were used.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 2, 2010 2:57 pm

The US Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) programme is offically running on two tracks: telescoped caseless (based on the HK G11 technology) and plastic-cased telescoped, but all of the development emphasis is on the latter. They are currently into the third generation of this ammo, and are achieving 40% weight savings over conventional 5.56mm ammo for the same ballistics (the LMG which fires it is also about half the weight of the Minimi). The LSAT team are due to supply eight LMGs and 100,000 rounds to the US Army in May 2011 for testing. They have also test-fired a carbine using the same ammo. According to them, the main technical problem remaining is “productionising” the ammo, as this requires an entirely different manufacturing process than conventional ammo.

If LSAT does make it into service, I really do hope that they don’t just make it in 5.56mm and 7.62mm because that’s what we’ve got already. The guns will have to be totally new and technically different as well as the ammo, so it would be golden opportunity to take a fresh look at the optimum calibre and ballistics. Choosing one long-range intermediate round would actually save money then, because only one set of weapons would be needed, and it could be done for more or less the same ammo weight as the current 5.56mm.

Incidentally, whether a range of different weapons chambered for a new round would be required is open to question. You don’t need a both a rifle and a carbine if a bullpup layout is adopted (for all of its weight and ergonomic faults, the L85A2 is actually a couple of inches shorter than the M4 Carbine with stock extended, despite having a barrel six inches longer). Planned developments in high-temperature alloys for gun barrels, intended to make it unnecessary to carry a spare MG barrel, would allow a rifle to deliver much heavier sustained fire than at present, reducing the need for a compact IAR/SAW, and the advanced computer sights I mentioned on another thread would allow all riflemen to deliver effective fire to very long range (assuming the ammo is up to it).

All this means that we could, ironically, go back to the intended plan in 1950, with one compact and controllable selective-fire general-purpose rifle and one belt-fed GMPG: which were then the EM-2 and TADEN respectively.

Incidentally, while I agree that all calibre choices are compromises and there is no one right answer, I think that there are certainly plenty of wrong ones!

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 2, 2010 3:39 pm

Hardware can at most solve a tiny fraction of modern infantry’s problems.

A move towards longer-range weapons is especially stupid. Infantry does not need to fight over longer distances than 400m. Decisive combat happens at short range, while the harassing fires can be left to support weapons such as heavy sniper rifles and mortars (while the infantry simply evades detection).

The important issues are about recruitment, training, standards, quantity, organisation, tactics, morale, cooperation, SOPs and personnel selection.
Hardware comes last. I write only about hardware when my brain is in low power mode.

paul g
October 2, 2010 4:33 pm

when it comes to re-supply we (UK) are wrongly placing eggs in the wrong basket, wereas most if not all of our european allies have smaller aircraft (c-27j, EADS c-235/295 and transall) we are concentrating on the A400 as a multi task aircraft, hence not available for “little tasks” If the 130k’s are really on their arse as the RAF say they are then bin them now and get in smaller aircraft even as small as eads 212 and use these for resupplies.
On you tube there is a system called copterbox, a cardboard sycamore seed system can handle 60lbs and being cardboard costs peanuts. Saves this age old mindset of having 3 days worth of stuff all the time (3 days of rats weighs a lot)!!
Another system worth mentioning also on youtube is snowgoose UAV which is basically a coffin style box with compartments suspended under a parawing, easily launched (back of a pickup in the vid) When it’s over the DZ one compartment opens and drops supplies by chute, all remote controlled.
Basically point i’m trying to make is radios, batteries will always get smaller and lighter but food and water won’t so let’s look at ways of getting to guys on the ground easily and cheaply so we’re not paying for guys invilided out due to knees/back etc.

Mike W
October 2, 2010 4:42 pm

x and others,

“Small ATVs towing trailers are the answer for bergens. They can be made quiet enough and fitted with larger (protected) fuel tanks to last out a few days patrolling. May even allow for a patrol to actually “carry” more weight into the field.”

What about unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).? I read in Jane’s IDF the other day that Marshall Land Systems is preparing to deploy its Trakkar unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) on the UK Ministry of Defence’s ‘URBEX’ urban exercise in October.
According to the Marshalls website, Trakkaris a multi-role autonomous 4 x 4 platform with a 250 kg payload that has outstanding cross-country mobility. In its present configuration, it can carry up to six fully laden military bergens (each weighing 40kg) or other equipment. TRAKKAR has ‘follow-me’ technology which enables the vehicle to follow its human controller across the ground as the unit moves forward.

October 2, 2010 5:56 pm

I recall a comment along the lines of:
“The role of the Infantry is to close with and kill the enemy”
it seems to be the primary description of the Infantry across the commonwealth armies, but I can’t find the definitive source.

I wonder how the current foe, with his predilection to suicide and booby traps, affects this desire to close with the enemy and instead try and hang back and do the work with firepower. Clearly this reduces casualties, but perhaps it means that a decisive victory with ground controlled is lost.

Get shot, be struck down by guided weapons, Insha’Allah, but getting overrun by a bunch of nutters with bayonets, that’s a bit more visceral.

Back to the hardware, I think a conventional action based on the CT40 round might actually be quite difficult. The case is a cylindrical prism, designed to work with the rotating breech system and as such has no taper to assist extraction. It’s one thing to push it out of a tube but quite another to drag it out backwards with an extractor claw.

October 2, 2010 6:14 pm

Tony – thanks for joining in here, I have had your site on my bookmarks for quite some time :-)

Interesting point ref MetalStorm – I guess they need someone to step up and actually make some orders so they can generate some revenue !

paul g
October 2, 2010 6:31 pm

some interesting options for the 40mm underslung

and also if we’re issuing shotguns then let’s get a bit imagnative with the ammo…..

gets interesting round wise at 4.20 much lighter than 40mm, and good enough for room clearing.

October 2, 2010 8:44 pm

@ admin

Man may have colonised the planet on his feet, but I think you are underestimating the manoeuvrability of the ATV. You yourself posted a youtube tube showing Softrak which I think is too big. I like the idea of using something Mattracks. And I know the “green zones” of A-stan are covered with irrigation ditches. To be honest I don’t think you are thinking outside the box. A soldier in the field needs lots of water and food. He needs ammunition. He needs batteries. etc. etc. Perhaps we need to see if ACME offer field kit that is inflatable? Perhaps the problem is organisational? I don’t know. I don’t think “protection” and moving the ATV+trailer should dictate how the formation moves, but TBH I don’t think it will have much impact. And as the idea behind using ATV+trailer is too allow the troops free movement the formation will cover more territory.

As for RWS on masts I am not sure about recoil problems. The tubing needed to lift lets say a GPMG and camera plus motors would be quite substantial (and don’t forget it will be filled with oil.) Therefore I don’t think recoil would be much of a problem. I think you did “x” here and where firing from the hip without thinking it through!!! :)

@ Jed

I am sorry for your loss. I am not saying that women make bad soldiers. I am not that fit, but at 6ft and 15st I can still out “carrier” women who are lot fitter and a lot younger. I do believe that women do bring about a “psychological” weakness into fighting formations; but as with most things I am open to debate on that because I would like to think we men aren’t that shallow. But I am not too sure.

October 2, 2010 9:28 pm

Maybe standing off and using firepower can do the job, but how will you ever know?

On the other hand, I wouldn’t fancy charging a position if the guys inside might be sitting on a bit of explosives that they don’t mind setting off.

If technology is a potential answer, then something like the Lockheed Martin HULC is a solution. Designate a few men per platoon as ‘mules’ and let them lug the heavy stuff about. Or the autonomous gizmos from Marshall or Lockheed

Something that goes back to the calibre debate, but in WW2, with the light infantry operations in Burma (or in fact anywhere else), the front line ammunition scale was 50 rounds per man. These days it’s something in excess of 300 rounds, plus rockets, mortar bombs, grenades and ammunition for the section light machine guns.

With the proliferation of equipment and weapons, perhaps what we really need is more men to carry it rather than shiny things to carry it around.

Or develop a new Light, tracked AFV to act as a Bren gun carrier.

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 2, 2010 10:02 pm

” Mr.fred October 2, 2010

I recall a comment along the lines of:
“The role of the Infantry is to close with and kill the enemy”
it seems to be the primary description of the Infantry across the commonwealth armies, but I can’t find the definitive source.”

I wrote a draft for a blog post on this. I tracked this quote and very similar ones to official field manuals, that is official army doctrines. The British seem to not have dabbled in written, official doctrine until the end of the Cold War, so it’s likely not official for longer than two decades.
It might have an roots in the offensive (=advance and break the hostile battalion by threat of melee fight) tactics school of the musket age, of course.
Some 17th and 18th century commanders were known to emphasize the bayonet, while others were known for emphasizing blackpowder.

The whole “close in and destroy” idea is utter crap today, of course.

October 2, 2010 10:29 pm

@ admin


There are other systems available.

And as for masts this is the sort of thing I am on about,

In a FIBUA situation ranges wouldn’t be that extreme. During the 70s the West Germans looked at puting TOW launchers on hydraulic arms (think similar to a back hoe) mounted on a track chassis. The idea being the vehicle hid behind the sky line in dead ground or behind trees etc. What I am imagining is similar something fitted with guns. Unless somebody can tell me different it doesn’t seem much thought has been given to tackling those high compound walls. “We” seem to expect troops just to wonder into these death traps. A gun and camera lifted even a few stories would prove useful…….

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 2, 2010 10:50 pm

Forget about Mattracks and similarly mechanically complicated suspensions for long missions (as the many years mission in Afghanistan).

Maintenance requirements and durability are knock-outs for the idea.

October 2, 2010 11:00 pm

@ Sven Ortmann

Similar systems are used day in day all over the world by oil companies, farmers, forestry organisations, etc. etc. etc.

Why do you think systems such as these are more fragile and more maintenance intensive than any other technology a modern army fields? I would rather trust one of these tracks over a rubber tyre.

October 2, 2010 11:09 pm

@ Sven

Saw this and thought of you (actually I went to look for it!)

None of those ‘orrid brass cartridges, gas parts, etc. etc. so it is very, very low maintenance……..

Only jokin……

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 2, 2010 11:15 pm

The rule of thumb in engineering is that moving parts add possible failures. Mattracks have many, many moving parts. A tyre is relatively simple and can quite easily be replaced.Hard, sharp rocks can shred tyres, but imagine for a second the effect of a rock in the mechanics of a mattrack.

Mattracks are fine in niches (soft soil), they cannot be a general answer to anything.

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 2, 2010 11:55 pm

The role of the infantry …..

Those dots certainly must not represent a tunnel vision on the most risky thing in the wide repertoire!
The “close in and destroy” line is terribly myopic in its focus. I could write a list of dozens of different roles.

Well, here’s the product of two minutes:

– short-range reconnaissance
– screens and pickets
– searches of many kinds, cordons
– overwatch over obstacles
– forward observation
– taking prisoners
– short-range raiding
– control of terrain
– security for armor during rests

2 minutes over.

Now you may argue that these are missions, not “roles”.

OK, then how about this
“The infantry’s role is to be the main force in almost all of those (line-of-sight) combat missions which can better be accomplished dismounted than mounted.”

About bayonet anecdotes: Honestly, I’m not interested in combat lessons drawn from combat against forces whose tactics are pre-1917.

October 3, 2010 12:54 am

“About bayonet anecdotes: Honestly, I’m not interested in combat lessons drawn from combat against forces whose tactics are pre-1917.”

For someone arguing against Myopia, that comment seems astonishingly short-sighted. Indeed, the current concept of asymmetric conflict dates back an exceedingly long way.

Furthermore, of the list of nine missions, four are more specific aspects of the basic concept of close with and destroy, while the remaining five are enabling activities for the primary mission.

The physicist in me rebels at your choice of description. For one, kg is a measure of mass, not force. For two, the peak recoil force of a gun cannot be understood as a static load, unless you wish to compare to other similar loads, as it lasts for the merest fraction of a second.

Hydraulics in military vehicles is not a favourite, as hydraulic fluid is a pain to deal with and it is usually flammable. Electric linear actuators based on rotary motors would be preferable.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 2:11 am

Sven, of course many issues affect soldier performance, training being by far the most important. But that doesn’t mean that hardware issues should be ignored.

Judging by the instant popularity of the L129A1, with which troops (not trained snipers) have reportedly been nailing the opposition at up to 800m, the troops on the ground would not agree with you that they “don’t need to fight at over 400m”. They need to be equipped to fight at whatever range they may be attacked from.

Closing with the enemy can be difficult if not impossible for a dismounted patrol, if he has chosen his ambush point well and there is nothing but bare open ground between you. And that’s without considering the more mountainous country, where he may be firing at you from across the other side of the valley. Or that even if the troops try to close, burdened as they are with 60kg of kit and perhaps operating at high altitude, by the time they get there the lightly-equipped opposition is likely to have disappeared.

I do agree with Admin’s point about small guided missiles; something like that would be extremely useful in this type of conflict. An alternative approach could be the current US EXACTO project to develop a guided ammo system for .50 BMG rifles.

October 3, 2010 2:12 am


Your idea of a tracked vehcle able to raise machine guns to shoot over a wall was attempted in WW2 by converting a Universal Carrier into a “Preying Mantis”. There’s one at the Bovingdon Tank Museum. We definitely need another Percy Hobart to sort things out.

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 3, 2010 9:34 am

“…the troops on the ground would not agree with you that they “don’t need to fight at over 400m”. They need to be equipped to fight at whatever range they may be attacked from.”

The world is flat, but not that flat and not that featureless. There’s more than the exchange of 4-13 mm bullets. There’s cover, concealment, camouflage, mortar fires and tactics, too.

Infantry battalions have mortars and snipers to deal with distant targets (and it’s not necessarily advantageous to kill distant targets when you’ve got the opportunity!).

Besides; high lethality at long range merely forces the enemy to become less visible – which is easily done in most terrains. There goes your situational awareness.

An infantry platoon firing at a 800m target merely gives away its position, which prevents ambushes and invites hostile support fires on their position.

Again; combat experiences against pre-1917 tactics do not interest me. They cannot be from wars of necessity, only from wasteful, wrong and stupid wars of choice.

October 3, 2010 10:22 am

Can I just point out the irony of everyone agreeing we need to reduce the weight caried by soldiers, then trying to think up wonderful new weapons for them to carry. Every ounce taken from a soldier’s burden will be put back by well meaning experts.

Saw a TV programe a few months ago about a US Marine Unit on patrol in afghan. Fit as a butcher’s dog all of them, professional, a true credit to the military potential of their country. The simple foot patrol took them less than 2 miles (If I remember correctly), result of about 12 solidiers, 3 required immediate medical attention, the others arived back at base so worn out that the were staggering through the gates. The cause? Heat and the stupid amount of kit/ body armour they had to carry. (this chimes with other reports I have had from Uk officers recounting similar tales)

Never mind super wizz bang techno weapons they could have all been killed by a short burst of sarcasm, by the time they got back.

If we need more firepower to a section then let’s make the sections bigger, the size of infantry units has been falling for decades- based on the idea that if each solider has more firepower we need less of them. But it is clear to even the casual observer that we are currently exceeding the capabilities of MK 1 Homo Sapian.

A long time ago back in the 80’s had a long chat with a doctor who did expedition preperation for canadian wilderness for hikers, scientists etc. He told me that the average fit male cannot carry loads over rough ground of more than 65-70Lbs for any length of time. After a few days he will be suffering muscle mass loss, small injuries to joints and tendons which accumulate to incapacitate and slow him down.

I cannot cite any other evidence to support that only my own experience as a back packer, the reports of UK Infantry officers, and the said TV Programme.

We need to set a limit of 30KG per soldier, and if a section needs more firepower and gadgets than that then get more soldiers.

paul g
October 3, 2010 10:49 am

mr fred, “something like a bren carrier” i would look at the german weisel, small light and fast, uses a standard audi car engine therefore parts a plenty and comes in various guises ie missile, recce, 20mm cannon, ambulance and 120mm mortar. Maybe in a distant galaxy, we could re-role (some might say turn the wheel full circle) the HCR with these and they become the light light recce fire support for 16AAB and also the recce regt just like the old days of the guards para brigade.
By the way all this talk of going into compounds blind did nobody bother to look at the 40mm underslung camera on a chute grenade video? cheap recoverable instant battle picture

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
October 3, 2010 10:54 am

A piece of kit I have always liked is the guided 2.75″ rockets being tested. Laser guided but with a much smaller warhead, it is a much cheaper option than a Hellfire in many situations especially give the huge varity of warheads available. COuld a ground launched version be developed.

Another idea is a guided round for the good old M3 Carl Gustav. The US Rangers use the lightweight plastic version which is substantially lighter than the version previously used by the British Army. Again there are numerous warhead iptions and again much cheaper than a ATGW. Basicalay a waetern equivilent of the RPG with bells on. Just an idea

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 11:11 am

Sven, the terrain doesn’t have to be flat to make long-range small-arms fire feasible; as I said, attacks are sometimes launched across a valley in mountainous areas. The climate doesn’t even have to be dry. The last major conflict British forces were involved in also had plenty of scope for long-range fire – in the Falklands.

Infantry battalions do have various support weapons, but the troops do not patrol in battalion strength. The nature of the present conflict means that they often patrol dismounted, in small groups, away from immediate fire support. They are limited to what they can carry which, given that their basic load is still over 60 kg, isn’t a lot. The most effective weapon support weapon normally carried seems to be the GPMG but that – and especially the ammo for it – is heavy.

Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood you, but you seem to be suggesting that:

1. There is no advantage in being able to engage your enemy at long range.

2. We shouldn’t be involved in this type of conflict anyway.

On the first point all I can say is that the troops on the ground, in both the US and British armies, and very keen to get hold of easily portable weapons which can do exactly that.

Your second point seems to be more political than military. Since current thinking seems to be that this type of counter-insurgency warfare is more likely to occur in the foreseeable future than conventional warfare, we need to ensure that our troops are appropriately trained and equipped to deal with it.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 11:22 am

Admin – I had to suppress a laugh at last month’s Infantry Weapons conference when it emerged that the latest technical gadget causing great excitment was – a hand-held folding periscope, so that troops could look over those compound walls! We’ll be back in the Great War trenches next…

Lord Jim, I agree with you over the potential of the guided 2.75″/70mm rockets, I think that they will prove so versatile that they will find a home in all three services. Not much use to a foot patrol, though.

I have received some inside information on the potential of a guided Carl Gustav round. One of the propblems is acceleration, which is brutal compared with a rocket, so much more expensive guidance hardware would be needed. The other is the restriction on overall length of the projectile which can be fired, which limits the scope for adding guidance systems and steerable fins.

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 3, 2010 11:42 am

Pzf3 is still in service, as is Bunkerfaust. Both are effective in niches, but much too heavy.

Tony; The Falklands conflict saw a few infantry actions, but they were essentially WW2-like small actions.

The best circumstances for offensive action had low visibility (night) – and that did not involve long-range fighting.
Long-range fires by infantry are not an will not be much more than harassing fires. Harassing fires aren’t worth the effort.
(1) The enemy does it too if you force it on him; lose-lose. (2) You give away your position for no substantial gain. (3) You can do it with snipers and indirect fire weapons at least as well. (4) Long-range infantry fires are not decisive.

We have few infantrymen, and risking them in non-decisive skirmishes that play no role in the greater operational picture is wasteful.

Long range also entails heavier weapons and munitions – both exacerbate the load problem.

Modern infantry should be extremely elusive (through camouflage, concealment, deception, indirect fires and shoot&scoot) most of the time.
The higher risk activities should be reserved for decisive tactical actions that really contribute on the operational level.

The focus on the tactical level and even more myopic the tunnel vision on the exchange of bullets is badly misleading.
We need to look down from strategy to operational level to tactical level, keep in mind that fire-fights are the exception even in the life of an infantryman and then look at what the infantry shall accomplish.
The original look at the higher levels tells us that infantry is extremely scarce. It must not get involved in largely ineffective activities such as harassing fires and indecisive forms of skirmishing as long as it’s scarce and endangers itself by doing so.
Even more important: We should not equip the infantry for activities that are of no consequence to the operational level and indecisive on the tactical level. That would be a very poor compromise.

October 3, 2010 12:50 pm


The reports I am reading, watching, and hearing from soldiers are that exchages of bullets are exactly what is going on.

It was something of an eye opener to me to watch footage of encounters to see that blasting away with GPMG and assault rifles was pretty mutch all that was going on. (to very little apparent effect I might add). So much so that in one TV report I saw a year or two ago, after a day or so the officers were telling the men they were out of bullets so could they please try and use the 40mm grenade launchers instead! Apparantly there was no way of resupply by air.

It really does not matter if battalion have got morters wizzbangs or whatever,if you out of range of them they are of ornamental value at best.

Air support may have some super guided stuff to blow up that Taliban with and RPK causing all the problems, but if it can’t get here for the next 10 minutes, (or at all) it’s not a lot of use.

Modern tactical thinking may talk about a “Golf bag” of weapons at small unit level, and a whole golf cart of stuff at battalion and above, for when a small unit finds the enemy and can fix him and deply those weapons. However when you are in that small unit being shot at and watching your mates being kiled and injured, it is very difficcult I suspect to to sit there and try and set up some multi level ambush involving guided weapons; which may take time to arrive or increasingly may not arrive at all. It appears that the troops are electing to shoot back.

Afghan is a small unit tactical war. the Taliban have unsportingly decided not to deploy large units just small unit and IED ambushes. That is the war we are fighting at ranges beyound the effective engagement of our infanty assault rifle, Or from behind cover it cannot penatrate.

Q whats the diference between supressive fire and harrassing fire?

Q Taliban are opperating in small units in your area using terrain and local poulation for cover. Ambushing units, and harassing bases. What units do you deply to find them, if not infantry?

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
October 3, 2010 12:54 pm

Lord Jim,

You beat me to it! I was going to mention a guided round for the Charlie G but thought no-one else would accept it given its age and weight.

I also considered a guided round for the RPG-7 or alternatively just a ballistic computer and sight unit for it. Revisiting ‘old’ technology and adding new could give pay some real dividends and prevent ‘older’ kit becoming obsolete in these austere times.

Anyone for a laser guided WOMBAT?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 1:04 pm

Sven, you seem to be assuming that the ISAF forces will be the ones initiating long-range small-arms engagements. That’s not what I’m hearing: it’s the Taliban who usually choose when and where to attack, and they frequently choose to do so beyond the effective range of 5.56mm weapons. In these circumstances they already know exactly where the troops are, so “revealing their position” isn’t an issue for the troops.

I do agree that night fighting is a better strategy for the ISAF troops when they have the opportunity, since they have the NV technology which gives them a huge tactical advantage over the insurgents. Which may be why the insurgents like launching their attacks in daylight…

October 3, 2010 3:20 pm

admin said “x, good find on the masts, the recoil force of say a HMG is measured in the hundreds of kg, on an free standing mast that would be a problem. A more sturdy hydraulic one might be more appropriate.”

Yes there is a related phenomenon on railways as the movement of steel wheels over steel rails produces an accumulative hammering affect. Yes I appreciate that the masts would have to be sturdy or perhaps even two or three masts would have to be used in concerts. I am only on about going up two (and a bit) stories.

@ Brian

Yes I have seen the Mantis. It just seems silly to me that we don’t take our high ground with us!!! Even if we don’t mount weapons a simple camera (or cameras) mounted on a pole would take a bit of guess work out over what is the over the wall. And for large ops cameras on masts could be positioned on the perimeter. I don’t know whether the continental armies are fielding this sort of equipment in A-stan. It seems we are only interested in cameras if they are flying.

@ Sven

You are a good sport. In my younger days I used to off road Land Rovers and I live in a farming area where there has also been some open cast mining. I am pretty familiar with tyres and tracks and how far they can take you. What they are good for and not good for. See,

I also know about how kit has to be squaddie proof. But I don’t these vehicles tearing around, I see them being used at walking pace with due care and consideration. The British Army’s driving school is highly professional and turns out thousands of drivers a year. It often takes 17 year olds who have never driven and with a month or so turns them out the other end with sheaf of licences.

October 3, 2010 3:28 pm

@ admin

That link was what I was looking for. And as I have just said the Continentals (I think the Dutch and Germans) have masts. And you do see this stuff as defence exhibitions. Perhaps in my normal round about way I am really asking “is why are we using lots of this equipment?” “We” should be able to pin down whole villages with this stuff. I know the Taliban use tunnels etc. But if we could stop them moving about on the surface we have contained them……..

I am rambling I will stop.

October 3, 2010 3:34 pm

@ Tony Williams

Are we talking about “shoot and skoot” with HMG?

As I have said several times now the Taliban en masse only seem to carry weapons with a comparable performance to 5.56.

I think a heavy round in the region of 7mm is the way to go. But a HMG even will out range that, And if the Taliban disengage straight away once the dust has cleared there will be nobody to shoot at. What I am wondering is if we could magically field an intermediate round would it solve “our” problem? Ignore me. I speak rubbish….

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 3:50 pm

@X – not HMGs, no. The PKM LMG in 7.62x54R calibre, which matches the 7.62×51 in performance. The PKM is a belt-fed gun which is very light – about the same as the 7.62mm Minimi / MK48 – so readily portable.

The British Army is currently looking for a gun in this class, and one inside observer joked that as at least one east European country now offers the PKM in 7.62mm NATO, perhaps we should go for that…

October 3, 2010 4:49 pm

So an immediate round 7mm would “solve” “our” problem. There is an historical reversal here in that in the past the British Army used to take machine guns to suppress the natives; now the natives are using machine guns to suppress us!!! This is all very interesting

Are they advocating full automatic fire capability for this new rifle. I am reminded that the FN FAL was originally full automatic; I also remember myths of Tom “fiddling” with the old SLR to re-enable fully auto. Shades also of LSW (and support variants of AUG) which despite the short comings of using magazine for sustained fire wasn’t in reality that bad. Yes I can see a rifle chambered for an immediate round with built in bi-pod a la FAMAS. I know the barrel of the SA80 is on the longside; so perhaps an ideal would be a barrel whose length comes between SA80 and LSW?

Are bull-pups still fashionable for the rifles coming in the future? Or has thinking gone back to collaspable/foldable stocks?

Sven Ortmann
Sven Ortmann
October 3, 2010 7:25 pm

I count 30 “small arms fire” and “gunshot wound” KIA of the British Forces in Afghanistan in this century.
30 of 289 combat-related dead.

That’s harassing fire (fire because you can not because of a tactical need better than mere disruption or light demoralization), far from a problematic small arms superiority of the enemy (at least as long as vest plates are used).

No matter how often Taliban initiate fire-fights (which doesn’t equal them being undetected before!) or how often they out-range 5.56mm (which equals useless AKs and RPKs as well!):
They are not very effective at long range. In fact, I’m quite confident that current sniping equipment alone already sufficed to inflict more than 30 TB KIA in infantry combat beyond 5.56mm range.

The pressing problem isn’t infantry weapons range; more range would merely lead to more weight, shorter patrols and even less ability to manoeuvre.
The most pressing (infantry small unit) problem is the lack of battlefield agility which allows them to escape from fire-fights (and thus to dare fire-fights in the first place).

– – – – –

It’s extremely simple to show weapons and specifications and discuss hardware, but that’s even below basic military training level. There’s no solution for anything to be found in different rifles. Better rifles would at best discourage the Taliban from risking fire-fights and thus eliminate one more opportunity to achieve anything that’s actually related to the mission.

Better hardware is not a solution, it’s part of the problem. Our superiority in open combat is so suffocating that the Taliban needed to reduce their active repertoire to mines and harassing fires; low-risk actions.
This “success” is actually self-defeating because it keeps the conflict at a very low level and presses the Taliban into focusing on political activities (where they’re about to win).
We could have sent poorly equipped infantry only without air support – and the Taliban would have bled white in a kind of Tet Offensive.

That’s why a tunnel vision on a fire-fight is disastrously misleading; even tactical success does not contribute to operational success, and it can even be counter-productive on the strategic level.

The more we strive for battlefield dominance, the less probable is that the extremely elusive enemy shows up for his destruction. It’s the entirely wrong direction of effort.
The Americans with their love for ‘dominance’ won’t get this, I thought maybe Tommys might get it.

October 3, 2010 7:58 pm

@ Sven

Having poked about a bit now I think what is being argued for is the ability to kill Taliban at greater ranges than the majority of Western infantry soldiers currently can.

It isn’t a question of whether the Taliban are shooting Western soldiers. More a question of Western soldiers wanting to shoot the Taliban. They can see them but can reach ’em.

Several here including me have mentioned that the Taliban aren’t the most discipline in the field. Perhaps if the infantry did have a better long arm and sending more of the Taliban to paradise and all those virgins there wouldn’t be all this debate about the lack of air power?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
October 3, 2010 8:27 pm

@x – there are two reasons for wanting a short rifle: one is to make it easier to carry in vehicles, the other is to keep it compact for urban fighting. A folding stock answers the first need, but not the second. Only a bullpup gives you both, as when ready to shoot it has an 8 inch length advantage over a traditional gun with the same barrel. It also has the incidental advantage that it keeps the gun better balanced when you start adding UGLs and other kit.

It’s hard to say what the trend is, but the Israelis have decided to replace their M4s and M16s with the IWI Tavor bullpup, while the Chinese have also mostly changed over to the Type 95 bullpup. The biggest hold-outs against the bullpup are the Americans, who seem to have something emotional against it (it looks un-American, or something). And of course American choices influence a lot of the Free World.

In practical terms the first generation of bullpups like the SA80 had a lot of problems, mainly with ergonomics. The best now, like the Tavor, have overcome these. The other issue is ambidexterity, which is also solvable now.

I’ve explored the pros and cons here:

October 3, 2010 9:39 pm

I’m a bit late to this post so I’ve missed many comments but I want to add a few things.

Firstly a recent high court ruling enforces that the MOD has a “Duty of Care” to look after its soldiers even on combat operations, which is why I don’t see the MOD giving commanders the option of not using their body armour. Seperately there’s probably also a duty of care involved with pack mules which would inhibit their use along with the fact they’d probably bolt under gunfire

Secondly in military electronics performance is king with battery life and weight only coming a close second. Its far easier to design electronics to run of lower power than it is to invent a better battery. This situation is further complicated by Defstans which enforce climatic and EMP requirements that also increase weight and introduce expensive specialised components. To get lighter kit we need to be using as much commercial technology as possible

October 3, 2010 11:04 pm

Sorry Sven but your post seems to have a problem and is “Too wide”

I still do not see you point. You have taken up a postion opposing those of us who argue in favour of larger calibres for infantry. But I cannot clearly ascertain what you are actually proposing yourself even if it the status quo. You seem to be saying everything is fine. Any soldiers complaining just need better training. At times you almost seem to be arguing that

“The taliban are not playing fair, and should jolly well be told to fight in the approved manner then everything will be fine”.

In discussing ideal calibres etc we have set the Angels dancing on the pinhead. Perhaps we have argued that into the ground

I am not trying to be clever at your expense just I am genuinly confused.

What does “Keeping the combat at a low level actually” mean, as opposed to what?

And what are we suposed to do to to reduce the load on the soldier?

October 3, 2010 11:41 pm

“Keeping the combat at a low level actually”

Keeping combat at low level is the problem. Once politics has failed the politicians should stand aside and let the military men do their job. ROE hamper the soldiers more the equipment. Some of the stories I heard from Iraq are stupefying. RMPs running around in the middle of firefight reminding troops only to use semi-auto. Or battalions being told not to take sniper rifles as they are “offensive” weapons. Low level combat indeed; it is like proposing to shoot to wound.

October 4, 2010 8:35 am

First thoughts from the article.

Why cant infantry have mechanical support?
Obviously, not all infantry can have a Warrior, true, but is it that hard to build an off road ammo/water/radio carrier?
It doesnt need to be ride along, it needs to be long, low, and have 8 wheels.
It can carrier everything heavy, water resupply, ammo resupply, a diesel generator ect.

It wont be useable everytime by every patrol, but a lot of them will be able to make use of it.
Yes, its extra maintenance, but come on, its a 1 litre diesel engine.
Or just bite the bullet and patrol with a CVR(T).
That can provide all the supression we need.

But, equipment loads, weapon calibres, future soldiers, all cant be answered unless we can answer,
“Whats the purpose of the Infantry”

October 4, 2010 9:32 am

“Unless somebody can tell me different it doesn’t seem much thought has been given to tackling those high compound walls.”

The only arguement I’m aware of is that of Richard North, and his view was bulldoze the ****ing country flat and rebuild it.
It didnt get far, “skills and drills” and “Hearts and Minds” won the day, and lost the war.

“Modern infantry should be extremely elusive (through camouflage, concealment, deception, indirect fires and shoot&scoot) most of the time.”

Sven, not every war in the world is the just war of defending Eastern Europe from Russian Agression.

Perhaps Modern Infantry *should* be those, but the British Army is currently acting as a police force in Afghanistan. You cannot act as the visible arm of central government if you are hide in a tree.
You have to walk around and be visible.

Whether we should be acting as enforcers for the Mayor of Kabul is a valid question, but not on this thread. I personaly dont believe we should be.

But the point remains, we are acting as visible law enforcers in a country where the rebels like to wait until our forces are near a minefield they have lain, then open fire from 800m away and hope our brave boys blunder into it.
Thats the situation.
That the British Army can return fire out to several hundred km with GLMS is irrelevent unless the Britsh Army has formed itself into a line to repel the Russians.
It hasnt, the current situation is a group of 10-20 men are wandering around, probably in a mine field, under fire from an enemy 800m away and with injured soldiers quickly bleeding to death.
Those 10-20 men need to be able to return fire, enough to supress the enemy, so they can collect the injured and move to better cover.
Support fires are only a valid answer if they are in range. I’m more than happy to support a 155m Howitzer in company houses, then, when under fire, the future soldier system gives a direction and range bearing of the attacker, a GPS coordinate of the soldier under fire, and a fireing solution for the gun at base, all it takes is a quick click of a return fire button, and the Artilery kicks in and a three round salvo, HE contact, HE Penetrating, AP Airburst, kills anything bigger than a microbe at the target.
Doesnt work if your outta range of one of those guns though.

Its quite possible, counter battery weapons protecting bigger bases were destroying the launch site before the enemy mortar round had even landed.

October 4, 2010 7:12 pm

Forgive me if this is a bit rambling, but it’s a bit stream-of consciousness

The successful counter-insurgencies since the end of WW2 have involved concealment and ambush and more importantly controlling the ground. Failure to control the ground has almost invariably led to strategic failure.

The current trend towards infantry close combat seems to feature the use of low force concentrations and consequently high reliance on supporting firepower in the shape of PGMs. GMLRS is actually very useful in this role, as its long range means that it can cover a very large region with only a few systems and positions, which are therefore easier to defend and cheaper to run. However, this approach means that the ground is not controlled. Granted, the enemy cannot prevent you moving through it, only harass you, but as soon as you leave control reverts to him.

It’s true that good tactics can overcome bad weapons and that good weapons cannot overcome bad tactics. However, given an opportunity to use weapons to shape tactics, shouldn’t this be investigated? If a new calibre gives confidence that you are suppressing the enemy, this could lead to increased ability to manoeuvre, even if it is mostly psychological. If you believe (and many do) that your weapons are no more bothersome to the enemy than a rolled-up newspaper, then you will be less inclined going to press in to a point when you have to rely on it. Also, an intermediate round might reduce the amount that ammo gets used like water*. Jim Storr’s articles on the effects of different weapons on suppression are of interest here – he suggests that the Minimi Para is an inferior suppressive weapon than the much maligned LSW at any significant range because it is used like a belt-fed submachine gun, has a short barrel and a light round. That may also be a training issue.

Basically, if we take the opportunity to replace the SA80 in the next decade to upgrade the round used, we should also take a very hard look at how the infantry use small arms and tailor the new weapon system accordingly.

Lightening the load of the average soldier will enable the infantry to control the ground by a number of means:
Greater mobility – move around obstacle, make more obstacles passable, move faster
Greater endurance – move further, faster. Stay on patrol longer. become less predictable.

To lighten the load, there are a number of areas to address:
Ammo – it’s heavy. 7.62mm is heavier than 5.56mm, an intermediate calibre would probably split the difference and weigh, on average, the same. If you can obtain greater effect with what you have, mixed in with training** to reduce rounds fired for a given goal, then you can carry less.
The use of artillery support is a key enabler because the infantry don’t have to carry it with them. A laser designator and data link allows precision HE. You just need a suitable system to be available to each patrol as they need it. Rockets allow cheaper guidance systems and require less of a launch platform, but guns and mortars require less of a logistics train.
Organic HE, linked with powerful ISTAR assets provides a very useful capacity, as demonstrated by Javelin. If the MBDA systems can provide the same ISTAR and effector capability in a reduced weight, then patrols can carry that rather than Javelins (which are rather heavy, but that’s because they’re intended for something else.)

Then there’s shiny kit, conveniently collected under C4ISTAR. Night sights, designators, rangefinders and radio kit. That seems to be a primary opportunity for weight reduction. Every soldier seems to have buckets of battery-powered kit. For example, does PRR need to be that big? My mobile will reach the nearest repeater tower which is amply far enough for intra-section comms, it’s small, light and has substantial battery life. Not all squaddies need to be able to talk over large distances.
ISTAR kit often come in the form of weapon sights. As weapons all tend to have optics these days, could we save weight by using in-line systems like on sniper rifles?

Support weapons – the average section doesn’t appear to have ordinary riflemen any more. Perhaps the reason our soldiers are overloaded is because we are trying to do too much with too few men. An army of one is a bit pointless if that one is too heavily burdened to move.

* This does seem to be a problem. There have been a number of instances where British and US soldiers have had bullets key-holing out the side of rifle or machinegun barrels under sustained firing. Too much playing CoD?
** The pre-1917 musketry skills of the BEF, garnered in the Boer War seem relevant

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
October 5, 2010 9:12 pm

Would it be possible to make an under-barrel laser designator? A sort of big laser pointer using a frequency invisible to the naked eye but visible via a weapons optical sight? A device that could be issued to section or even fire team leaders to designate targets not only for incoming aircraft or PGM’s but also for the men they command?

October 5, 2010 10:23 pm


Laser pointers are indeed used, attached to the gun via picatinny rails etc however with a quick google search I could find an actual laser designator designed for this application, even the “light weight” ones still seem quite bulky and heavy.

October 5, 2010 10:32 pm

Every soldier in the British army has a laser that works in the near infra-red region, where it is invisible to the naked eye but visible to low-light-level TV (LLLTV) and Image Intensifier (II) systems like NVG and weapon sights. It’s part of the Rheinmetall LLM-01 (Laser Light Module) which also incorporates a visible laser as well and visible and near-IR torches. It’s probably one of the better systems that can be strapped to a rifle, in terms of functionality for a given weight. It can’t be used to designate targets in the sense of for a laser-guided weapon – it isn’t powerful enough and can’t be programmed with the correct pulse. It can be used to indicate targets for support elements.

October 6, 2010 8:26 am

“close air support/artillery is much more complex than just designating a target. It is still a specialist task that requires a lot of training ”

See, This I never get.
An off the shelf GPS system can give you your position within about 10metres
A laser range finder can tell you the distance between you and whatever you point at.
A compass can give you a bearing, and from that, its easy for a computer to work out the GPS coordinates of the target.
Which can then be promptly destroyed via air/artilery.

Doing it verbaly, using maps and talking to a pilot who’s moving at twice the speed of sound is probably quite difficult, but does it have to be done that way?

Lets face it, designating the Taliban with a Laser pen is a lot easier than designating the 7th Tank Guards Army.
One wont know, the other would detect your laser and shoot its source.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
October 6, 2010 10:29 am

Thanks, gentlemen!

Admin, I will take your word for it that darget designation for PGM’s is more involved than just pointing a laser at what you want blown up but surely it should be the job of the guy who is under fire to designate the target? Or to designate the target to be designated? :-)

October 6, 2010 2:48 pm

Dom – I have seen U.S. infantry lost because their GPS receivers were on a different datum to their maps.

See the Wikipedia page for Joint Terminal Attack Controllers at the bottom of the page is a link to a PDF of the actual Joint Publication – you may find it interesting reading.

Although this is about close air support, it is not hugely dissimilar to calling artillery (be it rocket, mortar, or even NGS).

Up 400, right 100, 8 rounds fire for effect, shot…. splash….. out

October 6, 2010 3:03 pm

For your reading enjoyment via Defense

Colt introduce Modular AR rifle – swap from short barreled 5.56mm to long barrel 7.62mm in seconds, without having to re-zero sights: