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Here is an attempt to define the ‘‘generic” light infantry and suggest possible training tasks.
Major Scott R. McMichael, US Army
HAT exactly does the Army mean by the term “light infantry”? What is the difference between light infantry and reg-dar infantry? Is light infantry merely regular infantry made light by stripping away its heavy equipment andvebicles, or is it sometbingquitedlfferent in terms of tacticrd style, attitudes and utility? Surveying the official literature on the light division, one is hard put to avoid the conclusion that our Army leadership is takhg the view that light infantry is notbing more than regular infantry made light for the overriding purpose of strategic mobility. A number of facts support thfs conclusion. First, theinitial design parameters for the division focused on restrictions on size, not operational employment. The force designers of the new light division labored under three basic parameters: e A lo,ooo-man personnel ceiling. e A deployability limit of 500 or less C141 sorties. e A requirement for the division to
have nine battalion maneuver elements. The Army’s emphasis on lightness in terms of size and equipment is aleo reflected in tbe decision to eventually field a totrd of five divieions (including National Guard/Reserve) and in the draft doctrine tentatively approved for its employment. Field Circuler 71-10 l, Light Infantry Division Operations, specifies tactical missions for the light division at all three levels of warfare (low, mid and high-intensity). In addition, most of the recent articles on the tactical usee of the light division concern its commitment to the North Atlantic ‘heaty Organization as part of a corps which includes heavy divisions. Furthermore, a statement etill heard frequently regarding the utility of the light division is that it is not being asked to do
anything that a regular infantry force is not already supposed to be ready and able to do. All of tbesedevelopments point to the division as a multipurpose force, the most notable characteristic of which ie its strategic mobility, not its tactical utility. Certainly, the Army has not i~ored the peculirw tactical characteristics of the division. It has, after all, developed the Light Leaders Course end undertaken a muItitude of tests and studiee to determine how to fight the division. But the hallmark of the division rimains its strategic lightness, not ite tactical lightness. This is an imbalance not dismissed lightly (not a pun), for I believe that it shows a lack of appreciation for the reel meaning of light infantry. In contrast to the general American use of the term light infantry as regukm infantry made light, there existe another interpretation, meetly European in its context and origins, which is not tied to force structure or strategic mobility nearl~ so rigidly as it is in the United States. This article sheds light on this opposing concept and cites a Iiet of proverbs which characterizes operations by what could be referred to as “classic” light infantry. There are three primary characteristics of claseic light infantry which distinguish it from regular infantry: e An attitude of self-reliance. e A propensity for improvisation and flexibility. e A specific, common tactical style. The attitude of self-reliance is probably the most significant of the three attributes since the others are founded on it. Self-reliance is based on high levels of self-confidence, discipline, trust, unit cohesion and a never-say-die approach to problems. It pi-esupposes the possession of highly developed individual skills not usually found in the regular infantry soldier. Light infantrymen know that, no mat23
ter what the situation, they can make do by turning the eituation to their advantage. Classic light infantry almost disdains logistics, believing that it is possible to live in, on and off the lend and to use the enemy’s supplies and weapons if necessary. Self-reliance transcends tinfavorable circumstances and finds a way to accomplish the mission through innovation, imagination and perseverance. The light infantry’s attitude of selfreliance leads directly to a propensity for
flexibility and improvisation. The light infantry cannot afford a rigid approach to tactical problems. Instead, light infantry seeks to respond quickly to then.ga turn-, ing its strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses in ways that the enemy does not expect. The light infantry leader improvieee to accomplish his mission by changing his tactics and organization whenever necessary. Old equipment is used in new ways, and new methods are developed to meet a changing eituation.
LIGHT INFANTRY OPERATIONS There exists a “light infantry attitude” whichcan be describedin a few characteristic words offensiveness. initiative, surprise,improvisation and total self-reliance. Light forces are undauntedby terrain. Terrain is viewed as a; ally, a combat multiplier for the light infantryman. Light forces me terrain-oriented.Very little terrain is impassableto true light infsntw. Light infantry does best when it lives on, in and off the land. It must be comfortable “in the bush.” Good intelligence is vitaI to light infantry. Intelligence is obtained by the light infantry from every source from the national level to the use of local inhabitants,reconnaissance and patrolling. Conventions tactics axeno good for light forces. Historically, light infantry operations are mounted at battafion level and lower. Light infantry operationsare highly dependenton squad, platoon and company-levelactions. Light forces need high-quality communication to coordinate decentralized efforts into a coherent whole. Due to a general shortageof combat support,light forces mustdo an excellentjob of combining arms when they have a chance. Light infantry forcee must be masters of improvisation, familim with all kinds of weapons, vehicles, landing craft, and so forth. Light infantry forces make useof whatever is at hand to improve their combat capabilities. Native irregukmforces are often used in support of the lig$t infantry. Light infantry must remain flexible in mind and action, capable of reacting quickly. When a light infantryman rises from Kle eleep, he is ready to fight. Light infantrymen reIy on camouflage. Against heavy enemy forces, the light infantry always requiresa great deal of augmentation. September ,:
Li=ht infantrv is light of foot, so to sDeak. an’d light andquic~of mind as wel~The light infantry uses improvisation and flexibility as a combat multiplier, thereby frequently achieving a psychological advantage over an enemy which may outman it and outgun it. Not surprisingly, self-reliance, improvisation and flexibility produce a unique tacticrd style. the key features of which are surpn”se, stealth, shock and offensiueness. Tbe light infantry rdwaye seeks
toretein theinitiative to keep the enemy off-balance. Light infantry operates most frequently at night and uses tbe terrain at hand to full advantage. Light infantry is terrain-oriented and is able to switch oper, ations from one t ype of terrain to enother without paralysis of the mind. Moreover, in combat, the light infantry is logisticsconscious but not logistics-dependent. Light infantry relieeon superior tactics, not superior firepower, to win the battle. This short discussion barely scratches
Light infantrymen must be abIe to climb, crawl, swim, ski, snowshoe,rappel, stalk, run andhlde. Light infantrymen must be able marksmen,proficient in the use arrdmaintenanceof many weapons. Light forces rely on pioneerskills at all levels, beginning with the squad, to properly exploit terrain. Ranger standards of land navigation area must for light forces. Light infantry rarely uses roads or trails Light infsntry forces left in combat theaters for long inevitably become bsavier due to the acquisitionof heavier weapons,PIUSan increasedlogistics structure, Light infantry appreciatesheavy fire supportwhen it is available but is not dependent on it. Physical conditioning and mental strength we absolutemusts. THE OFFENSE Light forces may be deployed at the operationallevel of war, but they always fight at the tacticallevel. Light forces think at the tactical level. True light infantry loves the night. Light forces fight at night and h]de during the day. Light infantry attacks violently and suddenly on two or,more axes, seeking the flanks and rear of the enemy. Attacks are conducted fiercely and tenaciously against enemy weaknesses,not strengthe. Light forces attack, stripped for action. Lizht infantry creates a shock effect by the euddenneseand fierc&ess of their attacks. Attacks are closely synchronized. Light infantry always relies on surprise achieved through 93 stealth, deception, silenceand maneuver on foot. Light infantry always seeks to retain the initiative. ~.~:i:.:, Light forces practicerigorous fire dkcipline but, when necessary, - --1985 f -1 .T%. i ‘7 1
the surface of the issue. It does. however, capture the essence of classic light infantry. The proverbs which are listed here go into more detaif and, hopefully, clarify the picture somewhat further. They have been gleaned from the close study of sevend excelfent light infantry forces of the recent past. These include the Chindite of Burma the US unit in Burma in World War II known as Galsbad: the Chinese Communist Forces in the Korean Wan the British expeditionary forces which fought in Borneo, Malaya and the Fafklands; and, to a lesser extent, the German airborne and mountain troops in World War II. Although many of these proverbs apply equsfly well to regular infantry, as a group, they do a fair job of embodying the nature of classic light infantry as distinct from regular infantry. In conclusion, even though many of these proverbs should he embraced by all infantries, not just light infantry, history has demonstrated the difficulty of incul. I
they deliver intense fires on short duration to overwhehn the enemy. Light infentty turns the enemy’s weapons against him. Light infantry forces conduct relentless pursuit of enemy light forces and irreguhmforces to destroy them in detail. Light infantry offensive operations are characterized by a high degree of decentralization. Light infant~ patrols relentlessly and aggressively ambushes the enemy. Light infantry sometimesdouble-timesinto battle. The light infantry tracks, listens,locates,cuts off, raids and ambushesthe enemy. The enemy never knows where the light infantry is or when he will attack. Standing operating proceduresare usedwidely by light forcesfor quick, silent action. Rehearsals, training. precombat briefings and shering of information to the lowest levels ars more common among light forces. The infiltrating of Largeunits of light infant~ is possiblein close terrain end ie neceseary for successin major operations. Under these conditions, light forces infiltrate to attack the rear, to establishblocking positionsand to create obstaclesin tbe path of a retreating enemy. Hemd-to-hand combat i$ a required skill for tbe light infantry. THE DEFENSE Light forces can defend. but they are more suited to the offense. Defense can immobilize the light infantry, consumetoo much ammunitionand develop rigidity of mind.These are the dangers of the defense for tbe light infantry. Light forces muet be able to disappearinto the ground rapidly for defense. Light infantrymen must be good diggere and fact.
eating the light infantry virtue or style except in small segments (usually elite elerhents) of national armies. The US Army particularly has a history of being tied to its logistic chain and has relied more on firepower than on military art for its victories. Let us aeeume that the new light divisions should be trained in the classic light infantry style. The Army may find it difficult to do so since it is a style with which we are baeically unfamilim except for our
specialty forces, particularly the Ranger battaliona. The first step, however, is for the Army to decide what it means by light infantry. Isitmerely light infantry made light by the absence of heavy equipment, or is it something more like what has been described here? This is a queetion which sbould be answered quickly, for it has a significant bearing on the training strategy and leadership of our new light divisions.
Light infantrymen must be masters of fortifications. Light forces defend cmthe reverse slope. Spoiling attacks are a frequsnt tactic of light forces. Normally, light forces are ill-armed to defend against armored vehicles, even in close terrain. Light infantry counterattacksimmediately to retake lost key tsrrsin or to hit the enemy’s rear and flank while he is attackkg. The light infantryman is invisible and silent in the defenseby day or by night. LOGISTICAL SUPPORT True light infantrv is not tied to a supply hne. Light infantrymen disdain logistics as an important planning factor–thev can always “make do “ Light forces can operate separated from their lines of communicationshy depending on enemy and indigenous supplies. Light infantrymen can live off the land. Light forces make maximumuseof the indigenouspopulationfor bearers, handlers, sorters, loaders, and so forth. Light infantry frequently resuppliesat night. The use of hehcopters,amphibiouscraft and like craft is vitsf to the resupply of the light infantry. Improvisation is a constant feature of light infantry logistics. TECHNOLOGY Weapons burden. used by light forces must not impose a logistical
1f equipment cannot be manpacked or muleldonkey-packed,the light infantry generally bas little use for it. The helicopter is almost revolutionary in its effects on light force mobility and logistical support. The delivery of light infantrymen to the area of operations has changed over time, but actions on the ground have changed tittle. “--’-%$~-” * m
Historicalfv, advantages in technolosw have not been the deciding fac~orin light i; fantry operatiori;. THEPOLITICAL ARENA PoLiticalaction is often needed to support light infantr< operations. Light infantry pr~fits from a psychological operationsedge and must be prepared to use this advantage. Cooperation between a light infantry security force and the Iocnl police and intelligence structureis essentialto success The “hearts and minds” role in low-intensity conflict is one to which the fight infantry normaUyis very sensitive. LEADERSHIP Light infantry leaders are generallv of a higher qualitv than conventional infantrv leaders Light infantry leader traits are imagination, flexibility. hardiness, endurance,confidence,improvisation, discipline.technical expertise, perseverance,and so forth. Light leaders lead from the front. Consequently, they suffer a higher ratio of casualtiesthan normal Juniorofficers and noncommissioned officers must possessskdls above and beyond thoseof the regularinfantry. These skillsinclude demolitions, artillery cnlk for fire, the use nf close air support and familiarity with foreign weapons and foreign languages. Teamwork and confidencein eachother me vital to light infantry operations. Courage without teamwork is of little vnlue. Mnrale,esprit and spiritualpower are of high vafue to light infan. try operations. Light infantrymen usuallyleave no casualtim on the battlefield. Light infantrymen look to their leaders for clear voice instructionsnnd thrive on the motivation of visually observing their leaders in action. A light infantry leader can dn everything a soldier can do and
Major Scott R McMzchae/ zs a resmrck fellow Instzru t.. USA CGSC, Fort Leavenworth. Kansas He recett,ed a B A fmm Davidson College and an M A from the ;! .a Uniuers~tv of Chzcwgo He sewed as S3, 1st Battalion, 22d Field Artdlerv. and dwzston rendiness office,and G3 Ope?atzons officer. Hmdquart.rs. & Ist Ammr@dD&um on, Ansbach, West Ge~manv, H,. artzcle “The Battle of JaMv-Ktsb Erie,,” up. x peared m the Jui,v 1985 \filitary Review
at the Combat Studies