Monday, July 05, 2010

A vision of officer training from S.M. Stirling's Necessity

Disciplined. Pragmatic. Tactically and technically proficient. Esprit. Initiative. Innovative. Thinkers. Learners. My hope is Columbia ROTC produces officers with a synthesis of the best of the military and the academy. A good reference for my hope is described in Necessity by S.M. Stirling, War World Vol. 1 The Burning Eye, created by Jerry Pournelle, pp 227-233:

(History:) After the breakup of the CoDominium and the virtual depopulation of Earth, Jarnsveld's Jaegers (JJ) found its original functions more and more redundant as the local militias and national conscript army grew in size and effectiveness. Gradually it assumed a new role as an elite, all-volunteer cadre and rapid-deployment "fire-brigade" unit.
. . .
(Recruitment:) Most of the Jaegars are "younger son" types. Service tends to be traditional in certain families, and is also attractive to the restless (travel offplanet, otherwise rare for Frystaaters), the eccentric (the regiment is very much a world to itself, and is tolerant of anything that does not interfere with the mission), and the ambitious (those who survive two terms are eligible for land grants and interest-free loans).
. . .
(Organization:) The basic tactical unit is the five-trooper "stick." Above this level all groups are expected to have "plug-in" capacity, able to combine and shift as need and opportunity dictate.
. . .
Training, Tactics, and Philosophy:
A few typical sayings:
"The guns are clean; the troops are ready to fight; everything else is bullshit."
"Winning battles by attrition is to the art of war as a paint-by-numbers kit is to the Mona Lisa."
"You don't win by killing the enemy, but by breaking their hearts and making them run."
"We are not a numerous people. Our casualties are expenditures from capital, not income."
"Quality defeats quantity; maneuver defeats mass."
"Outsmart them. There's always a way."
"Win. If you can't win, cheat. There are no rules."

Frystaat military thought holds that the one basic problem of war is uncertainty. A commander cannot really be certain of anything, from the behavior of his own troops to the accuracy of his maps. You can never tell what the opposition is going to do. Furthermore, once engaged no amount of real-time communication equipment will save you from the "fog of war." Even if the machinery works with unjammed perfection, it still tempts superiors to risk information overload, which paralyzes decision making.

Historically there have been two approaches to this problem. One (exemplified by pre-Napoleonic Prussia, the 20th-century Soviet Union . . . ) attempts to reduce the uncertainty by simplification. Training and discipline are repetitive and rigid; a tactical manual lays down all the acceptable answers; initiative is forbidden; battle plans are rigidly adhered to regardless of circumstances. "Nobody thinks, everybody executes" (Frederick the Great). This system is characteristic of states with small, paranoid elites and large, expendable, but untrustworthy masses of subject cannon fodder. A typical feature of such systems was the KGB automatic-weapons units that followed Soviet troops into battle, machine-gunning stragglers. Soldiers, divisions, and even entire armies are treated as fungible goods, like ammunition.

The other approach accepts, embraces, and attempts to use the "fog of war." This involves a radical decentralization of command authority, trusting those closest to the information to use it properly. Plans are treated as a basis for creative improvisation. Flexibility is cultivated, the capacity to "roll with the punch," winning by shock and psychological dislocation rather than simply chewing up the enemy's men, machinery, and units.

Certain qualities are implicit in this method: really good staff work, not mere formula-following; high unit and individual morale; meticulous training in tactics; training that is intelligently understood, rather than followed by Pavlovian rote. Rarest and most precious of all, the combination of discipline and individual initiative. Historical examples would include such units as Rogers' Rangers, the S.A.S., and the Long Range Desert Reconnaissance Group. In terms of armies, the post-Von Seekt German Army and the Israel/Dayan Zahal. In terms of philosophy, Liddell Hart's/Gerasimov's "indirect approach."

Forces of this type require a different ethos, a "band of brothers," rather than "Fear your officer more than the enemy" (Frederick the Great). It also requires a different type of recruit, people who already have well-integrated personalities and the capacity to work intelligently in groups. They still require hard training and respond to the traditional motivators (primary-group identification, unit esprit), but not to the hammer-them-flat approach necessary to turn "scum of the earth, enlisted for drink" (the duke of Wellington) into reliable soldiers.

This conflict of styles has always existed. However, post-gunpowder technological and tactical developments have generally favored the second type. First, increased firepower forces tactical dispersion. Until the middle of the nineteenth centurey, armies could literally march into battle shoulder to shoulder. This kept every soldier under the eyes of his officers, his NCO's, and (just as important) his comrades. Napoleon's armies were larger than Frederick the Great's, but he could still oversee the entire course of a battle from a hilltop, and battles lasted no more than three days.

Industrial-era productivity permitted armies too large to oversee in the old sense, but the generals were still unwilling to admit the need for dispersal on a battlefield dominated by firepower. This was not merely conservatism. They knew that the training system was designed for the traditional battlefield, and there was no way of telling what would happen if the men were turned loose. Furthermore, they knew that dispersed operations required more and better training.

The turning point was the First World War. In 1916, the British sent their troops forward at the Somme in long rows, walking upright. This produced 60,000 casualties and no gains in a single day. The soldiers were short-term volunteers, and their commanders had no faith in their ability to perform any but the simplest military tasks. Ironically, these enthusiastic, comparitively well-educated volunteers were better suited to flexible tactics than the slum dwellers and dispossessed Irish peasants of the British regular army!

Later in the same war, the German Army (usually less conservative than its opponents) organized many of its best divisions into "Storm Troops" (a title later made odious by the Third Reich). These were trained to operate in small, self-sufficient groups, infiltrating the enemy lines instead of battering at them, attacking weakness instead of rather than strength. Pockets of resistance were isolated and left for the follow-up elements; the aim was to pierce rather than push back the enemy front and reach the "soft underbelly" of administrative and logistics units. It was an infantry version of what, when mechanized, became known as "blitzkrieg."

Needless to say, Frystaat has always favored the second type of army, with the Jaegers the distilled essence of the whole philosophy. An army of aristocrats, self-motivated, they are the product of an environment that has been culling weakness of its human inhabitants for more than five centuries. They are also an army of supreme pragmatists, fighting with a cold, intelligent ferocity, uninterested in fripperies or "gallant last stands."
. . .
p 246 The Band operated by Frystaat military custom, although scarcely a dozen were of that breed. That meant a tradition of small-unit work, without an elaborate administrative structure: Initiative was not encouraged, it was demanded, and that meant information had to be widely shared.
. . .
pp 260-1 "I was a history student, originally," he said. "And we Frystaaters don't have much use for that 'tin soldier' shi . . . er, foolishness."
Ilona chuckled. "Frystaat's an . . . odd place, from what I've heard. Aristocratic republic, but the underclass aren't allowed arms at all. Combat units are all gentry and their retainers, so officers aren't social superiors, just . . . how did you say it, Piet?"
"'Functional specialists.' Expected to lead by example and force of personality. Still, people need some ritual, a sense of belonging. . . . I'm familiar with the way my homeworld's military build loyalty and solidarity, and it works, so . . ." he shrugged.


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