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INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY

INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY Two issues have dominated the subject in the last few years: the balance between capability and weight, and the sorry armoured vehicle saga that is the UKs Future Rapid Effect Systems (FRES). We examine again the state of the latter in the wake of the Secretary of States announcement that FRES is to be postponed yet again is FRES still alive? In addition, we publish the contentious views of two former infantry officers on two other issues: the misunderstandings about the importance of suppressive firepower and how it must be best achieved; and illogical decisions on infantry section weapons that are too often based on opinion rather than fact.

Alice in Warminster: Capability Gain or Increased Performance?


by William F. Owen
Wilf Owen is a freelance writer and military/warfare theorist living in Israel. In this article he suggests that the terms infantry capability and performance are widely misunderstood and illustrates this by analysing illogical decisions on infantry section weapons. You might just as well say, that I breathe when I sleep is the same thing as I sleep when I breathe! Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland The purpose of this article is to examine the relationship and distinction between performance and capability, in terms of understanding UK infantry developments. Evidence suggests that this area has been little examined and even less understood. Definitions are important. For the purpose of this discussion, Capability is deemed the ability to do something, Performance is how well something is done, either in terms of effectiveness or efficiency. Infantry capability and performance are both complex as concerns the number of elements to be considered and the relationships between them. However, there are a few simple assumptions that can be made to set favourable conditions. Firstly, the infantry fight on foot, so equipment must support, not impede, that action. Secondly, infantry operations are the most physically, morally and conceptually demanding of all the fighting arms, so capabilities have to be the simplest, most robust and flexible possible, because at the centre of the
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infantry capability is human frailty, which is hard to measure and very unpredictable. Thus, adding weight for a capability or performance you cannot measure is not a sensible choice. Cause for Concern There are indicators that infantry capability and performance are widely misunderstood, or that the measuring systems used for each, which are currently applied, are not fit for purpose.

Capabilities have to be the simplest, most robust and flexible possible, because at the centre of the infantry capability is human frailty, which is hard to measure and very unpredictable
For example, the 51mm light mortar was withdrawn from service, only having to be replaced with a 60mm mortar when it was discovered that the loss of the 51mm impacted negatively upon the platoon.1 The 66mm LAW M72A2 was withdrawn from service, and absent from the platoon for well over 10 years, until it reappeared as the much improved, slightly heavier, though near-identical, M72A9 ASM (antistructure munitions). In both these cases, the weapons were withdrawn because they were perceived (albeit on the basis

INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY

of no evidence) to be obsolete when, in fact, they were still required. Evidently the weapons were withdrawn because their capabilities were not well understood. The idea that other weapons could replace them was symptomatic of that misunderstanding. The explanation that these weapons are UORs for current operations needs to be examined. It supposes that dismounted combat operations in Afghanistan are unique as concerns threat, terrain and tactics, so that similar conditions would not be commonly encountered anywhere else on the planet. This is simply not true, unless we didnt expect to be fighting in Afghanistan, can be read as we didnt expect to be fighting anywhere. Capability is something we all want. The ability to do useful and relevant things is good, but adding new capability generally means adding weight. Maybe we should stop doing it. Instead of chasing a capability being able to do things maybe we should just try to create improvements do what we do better, while reducing weight. It is widely accepted, and also a proven methodology, that you can only improve what you can measure. If we cant measure it, perhaps we shouldnt do it. What Can We Measure? It has been suggested, and with some good evidence, that the infantry section or platoon of today is a great improvement on that which fought in the Falklands in 1982.2 The problem with this argument, is that: a) The section and platoon of the day were equipped to the standard of that time, which included overload. b) There is no actual proof that things deemed to be improvements since 1982, and maybe thought to be so, really are improvements.

For example, the idea that it is an improvement to organise the 8-man section into two 4-man fire teams, rather than the old gun group and rifle group, is a statement without evidence and actually flies in the face of the original doctrine contained in the 1980 PAM 45 that outlined the reasoning, which was that both organisations were valid, and to be employed as and when appropriate. Organisation can and does affect performance, which is why the ability to task-organise the section and platoon is important.

There is no actual proof that things deemed to be improvements since 1982, and maybe thought to be so, really are improvements
Some ten years after the Falklands, in 1992, the 8-man infantry section was better and more lightly equipped than it was in 1982. It was carrying less weight, for an arguably better performance. Excepting the poor reliability and unforgivably high weight of the SA-80 system, the weapons could, in theory, sustain suppression for far longer and more effectively than previously, although the training in how to do so was lacking3 (this emphasises that a great deal of capability is about training and not just equipment). Other equipment opportunities were missed, but regardless of detail, generally great improvements had been made, and these could have been measured, should have been, but werent! There was little in the way of new capability. Most of what was fielded was improvement. The new capability of 51mm HE round was, in fact, merely a re-introduction of the 2-inch HE round which was withdrawn in the early 1960s.4 Measuring weapons effectiveness for a carried weight is not hard, providing the effectiveness is set within specific constraints and human performance parameters. For example, you can show that an M4 carbine with a holographic sight is more effective than a Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 4 because, given a 5-second exposure at 200m, troops will record more hits from the standing position with the M4 carbine, than with the much revered SMLE. Adding a small amount of weight, such as night vision goggles (NVGs) will make it possible for troops to hit targets that would otherwise be impossible. Adding a laser pointer will further improve performance, as concerns speed and accuracy of engagement. Even quite crude performance testing, such as falling plate competitions, can be used to determine which weapons in the section or fire teams are actually worth their weight. This can also identify the increases in performance when bipods and high magnification optic sights are added to carbines. If a 5% increase in weight means the plates are
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Many countries retain hand-held mortars in the platoon. Seen here are two Turkish 60mm mortars [William F. Owen]

INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY


The 40mm UGL, like the M-203 seen here, is a highly effective and rapidly evolving weapon thanks to recent strides in ammunition technology [US Navy]

knocked down 30% faster, then there is data on which to base a judgement. Kafkas Chickens Return The SA-80 equipped section achieved the same level of effective suppression, for the same carried weight, more efficiently than the section equipped with the Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). However, removing the GPMG from the section lost the section certain capabilities in terms of their ability to do some things. That loss of capability was recognised, albeit intuitively without any substantial body of evidence as one trials report put it: Firepower at the section and platoon level has been a major concern.5 Because no one bothered to measure it, this was merely a concern, not a fact. The poorly understood difference in performance between the SA-80 equipped and the SLR-GPMG equipped sections eventually came home to roost in terms of two bizarre decisions. Firstly, and based mainly on opinion,6 the army introduced the Manoeuvre Support Section (MSS) into the platoon. This was essentially a direct copy of the then 25-year-old and enduring US Army7 practice of grouping 2 x 7.62mm GPMG at the platoon level. This added four men and one NCO to the platoon. Next, the UK again copied the US, and introduced a 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher (UGL) and 5.56mm Light
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Machine Gun (LMG) into the fire teams of each section. Then, in something straight from Kafka, the newly equipped US-style fire teams were used as a justification to disband the US-style MSS!8 Somewhere, someone judged that 12 men, now equipped with six LMG and UGL produced the Firepower which equalled, or was better than, five men with three individual weapons (IWs) and two GPMGs, and supported by a 51mm mortar notably something the US lacks! The only working British Army definition of Firepower (contained in ADP Land Ops) is that which destroys, neutralizes and suppresses. As a point of fact, the GPMG and 51mm mortar can both destroy, neutralise and suppress, out to 800m, while the LMG cannot deliver the same terminal effect as the GPMG at 800m and the 40mm UGL cannot currently reach 800m9 which is why the US retains an MSS at the platoon level. Confused? You should be! Strangely, the Army did not seem to consider merely returning the GPMG to the section, where it had been in prior to 1985, and benefiting from the SA-80s performance improvements over the SLR. Oranges and Oranges Performance requires measurement to improve. Improvement needs to be defined, but in terms of infantry weapons, doing the same thing for less weight, or doing

INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY INFANTRY EQUIPMENT: A LACK OF CLARITY

something better for less or the same weight is generally going to be good. Adding the ability to do something new generally adds back the weight that you saved by improvement.10 Two non-weapon examples show opposite achievements. The PRR (personal role radio) improved control of the section and platoon, to such an extent that sections and platoons could do things they could not do before. This came at the addition of a very small amount of weight. Precisely the reverse is true of the PRC-354, whose unbelievably high weight was justified by supposedly giving the section commander a capability (GPS/Data) he didnt have before. This was in sharp contrast to the alternative approach of improving PRC-349 by making it smaller, lighter, increasing its range, and giving it a low level of encryption, all of which was possible. At the very least, better performance for the same size, or the same performance for smaller size and weight would have been better than the resulting fiasco. A handheld GPS could have been issued if required and in fact previously had been, albeit as a UOR! Two things are generally apparent. The first is that greater performance is best gained from improving the existing capabilities, not adding new ones, and the second is that new capabilities actually tend to flow from reductions in the size and weight of existing equipment. For example, the modern Light Support Weapon is a direct descendant of the basic technology of the Bren Gun a 30-round magazine, bipod-equipped, fed gas-operated automatic rifle.11 The current issue NVGs are descended from the cumbersome, section-scaled IWS, and PRR is considerably more useful than the old A-41 platoon radio set. Even the modern 1kg thermal-image weapon sight has its roots in old, large, cumbersome 4kg HHTI systems. What appears to be the case is that if increasing performance means adding weight, you are taking a step backwards. Increasing performance while reducing or at best not adding weight is a very good thing. A new capability will almost certainly mean the addition of weight, although it may be worth the extra weight. For example, if you give the fire team, or even the individual, the capability to purify water, then the weight saving is only going to come from carrying less water, because you can now scavenge water from the environment. So What? There is a substantial body of evidence that UK infantry equipment and weapons procurement has historically been driven by opinion, only rarely supported by data. What has been lacking is basic understanding of the relationship between weight, performance and capability. No one is swimming in uncharted waters. Dismounted infantry operations are not changing in the way some like to suppose. Less has changed than popularly imagined. What suppressed

a member of the Waffen SS in 1944 will still suppress a member of the Taliban today. Moreover, German infantry bunker systems of the First World War were more robust and skilfully constructed than anything likely to be encountered on operations today. So yes, there have been changes, but are not always to the detriment of the infantryman. There are no unsolvable problems currently afflicting infantry operations. There are however entrenched, and in some cases data-free, opinions. There are solutions, some of which may be painful, and of which the soldier himself may be the actual arbiter, but solutions to weight, performance and capability issues, which are currently of concern, do exist, and hopefully this article has pointed at some of them. notes
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The 51mm was supposedly withdrawn because the ammunition ceased being manufactured. It now seems likely that developing and procuring new 40mm ammunition natures equals, if not exceeds, the cost for developing and procuring an enhanced 51mm round Colonel Alec Bain, The Infantry Section: Lifting its Capability, RUSI Defence Systems, June 2007 Comments made in the trials report of Exercise Indian Strike II indicate substantial ignorance of the correct employment of the SA-80 system Why and exactly when the 2-inch HE round was withdrawn is not clear. It appears that the fixation on the section, instead of the platoon, meant that the Energa grenade was deemed more useful, especially for jungle operations PXR Indian Strike II, 24 September 1999 The aim of Indian Strike II was to Validate the MSS concept. Even the PXR acknowledged that the trial process was deeply flawed The author of the Indian Strike II report was a US Army officer There was a stated need to reduce the manpower of the platoon to save money, but that is not solving the problem that the MSS supposedly addressed Medium velocity ammunition will make the 40mm weapons capable to 800m. It should be noted that the 40mm UGL weighs 1.4kg, and 10 rounds of 40mm M433 weigh 2.3kg, so 3.7kg, which equates to 4 x 51mm HE rounds, so 24 across the platoon An SLR with 100 rounds weighs 6.5kg. A G-36KV with 120 rounds weighs 5.3kg. Add in two rifle grenades at 0.45kg each, to make 6.2kg overall, and you still havent matched the weight of the SLR, but youre close A fire team with SLRs and an L4 Bren Gun is conceptually identical to the SA-80 equipped fire team
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