Strategy

An Aged Approach to Something New – Land 400 Phase 3: The Case for Review

By Von Lambert March 29, 2019


Bruce Cameron's original article can be found here - LAND 400 Phase 3: A Case for Review Levon Lambert's original response to Bruce Cameron can be found here - Land 400 Phase 3: A Case for Reviewing that other Case.

"Trying to devise methods of fighting on the basis of the tinkering approach is much more dangerous today… A new tank replaces the old tank, a new howitzer replaces an old howitzer, and so on. Occasionally, a new type of system is developed which is radically different. When something appears, which does not dearly fit into any current functional category, a problem develops.”

- Colonel Huba Wass de Czege (1984) [1]

 

My recent response to Bruce Cameron’s original article was seeking to shed light on the fundamental problem that his argument seems to ignore – that you can definitively divorce man from machine when it comes to equipping infantry with an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). In this sense, there is no recognition of the fundamental paradigm shift from armoured personnel carrier (APC) to IFV and Cameron’s argument seeks to impose an old construct on something entirely new for the Australian Army. He essentially does this without challenging any underlying assumptions regarding the employment of infantry with an IFV as opposed to an APC.  For those advocating Cameron’s approach, the following is a further response addressing what is believed to be his thesis (that you could disaggregate the traditional corps-based aspects of the IFV capability because it is more efficient and flexible) and then the three key premises restated in his latest reply. Further history-based engagement with the US Army’s seminal transition away from an APC offers much for the Australian Army to observe when it comes to peacetime adaptation.

The tension between continuity and change

For the casual reader, there are two foundational compilations which warrant a mention at this early stage. In his book, The Challenge of Change: Military Institutions and New Realities, 1918-1941, Hal Winton observes: “All human institutions must inevitably deal with the tension between continuity and change, between preserving that which has met the needs of the past and adapting to the challenge of change in a confusing present and uncertain future.”[2] Winton’s identification of this tension is echoed by Stephen Rosen in his book, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military. Rosen essentially offers that the inherent conservatism of a military is often its greatest hurdle to change – it is comfortable reshaping ideas which look remarkably similar.[3] These studies on innovation and adaptation are echoed again in W. Blair Haworth’s previously identified observation that the US Army had difficulty acquiring and accommodating an infantry fighting vehicle because it insisted on effecting a radical doctrinal change by incremental means.[4] Viewing the development of IFV-equipped infantry through the deep-rooted lens of Australia’s experience with the APC will lead to the problem of awkward incremental development or ‘tinkering’ at the expense of actual change. With these studies highlighted for the casual reader as a way to engage more broadly with the topic of military innovation and adaptation, it is time to move into specifics.

The need for transformative thinking

Cameron’s continuation of the Royal Australian Armored Corps  (RAAC) -driven ‘mounted infantry’ construct is at odds with why the IFV is effective as an ‘infantry-centric’ platform. Transition to an IFV necessitates transition away from this old idea that somebody else turns up with a vehicle and the associated firepower. In response to this notion, it is prudent to again state that you cannot definitively divorce man from machine when it comes to equipping infantry with an IFV. In the first rebuttal to Cameron’s argument, it was highlighted that his view is not new or controversial, it is in fact mirrored in the US Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle example from the early 1980s – an excellent example of repeat history of conservatism identified by Rosen’s book. The lesson from that scenario for the readers of the dialogue is that unit and Command and control (C2) structures were slow to adapt to the reality of the technology which had been acquired because the institution tried to implement radical change via incremental means – the US Army was essentially unwilling to let go of the M113-infantry paradigm when confronted by the Bradley fighting vehicle (BFV) -paradigm and commenced the ‘tinkering approach’ described by Wass de Czege at the opening of this article. Conceptually, this was actually an argument over the relative combat mass of available infantry that manifested in a number of ways affecting platoon structures, combined arms doctrine, and a perception over complexity of technology that was mostly resolved over an unnecessarily long time. Cameron’s argument sought to reinforce conservatism by insisting that, in the case of a mechanised infantry unit, it should not be responsible (or possibly capable?) for managing fully half of the intended capability it would wield.

In observing a transition from an M113 to an IFV, the US Army example is very useful. Adaptation was effectively retarded by arguments over proponency between infantry and armour branches (because the BFV was so ‘technologically complex’ when compared to the M113 – this is not a new argument for those seeking to resort to it) combined with the conservatism of the infantry mirrored in the 1978 Mahaffey study (which was really a fait accompli study advocating continuation of the US infantry paradigm from 1920) at odds with the requirements of the DePuy/Starry approaches to AirLand Battle.[5] Analysis of this subject of transition and adaptation is best described initially in Haworth and then succinctly summarised Urbina in her contribution to study on the evolution of the BFV. Haworth aptly illustrates the problem for an Army transitioning from APC to IFV without fully committing to the new logic behind the employment of infantry. Urbina reinforces this notion in a branch-on-branch sense to highlight the institutional confusion between APC and IFV. Cameron’s sole source of evidence (Held’s 2013 RAND study) is ultimately not helpful because the US Army abandoned the premise behind it by 2017 on the basis that they were still unable to develop a BFV replacement that could house the current infantry squad. Held’s 2013 study, in itself, was recognition that the US Army was still fighting the battle between structure and technology. From the APC to BFV transition, a key lesson for the Australian Army is this: from 1983 onward, the US Army definitively resolved one key premise undermining Cameron’s advocacy, the BFV would remain a tool under the auspices of the infantry branch for decades to come.

Cost-effectiveness

In addressing Cameron’s recently restated premise on cost-effectiveness, the opening observation is that he simply lacks any data to demonstrate the ‘cost-slashing’ idea he puts forward. The audience would broadly seek to understand what he means by ‘cost-slashing’, but since he offers no actual evidence, the following is suggested instead. If Cameron were to state that reduction in cost in a monetary sense was related to numbers of personnel then the case makes little sense. The IFV crews are still required to be trained and equipped irrespective of corps. If Army was to create an IFV unit (or sub-units) absent infantry, then it means establishing a unit with associated logistic and command arrangements to ensure it is administered prior to joining the designated infantry unit for training/deployment. Like the anachronistic APC squadron, Cameron is imposing additional tactical headquarters on top of something inherently designed to be integrated. The cost argument is invalid in the sense that it takes more personnel to ostensibly do the same thing the mechanised battalions have done since inception and, more importantly, Cameron offers no actual evidence to support his claim.

Flexibility

Cameron’s premise on flexibility appears based on the notion that Army would definitively require a designated infantry unit to leave an IFV behind for some other operational requirement. One posits that this would have to do with some type of task related to something on the lower end of the spectrum of conflict that carries a lower risk to force – a task that involves no use of armour. If it were to be higher risk, then the logical conclusion is that there are three other infantry battalions in other Brigades available to employ first. In this sense, Cameron seems to be advocating that by treating the IFV as an adjunct to the basic infantry capability, flexibility is generated in the lower risk categories. The fundamental issue with this idea is that Cameron is essentially stating that disaggregation of infantry and IFV – divorcing man from machine – is to come at the expense of higher risk segments on the spectrum of conflict. Cameron’s logic on flexibility is that in order to do lower risk tasks, it needs to be at the expense of doing high risk tasks only achievable by IFV-equipped infantry.

The conclusion to this is to sacrifice integration by farming it off to another corps on the premise that they would do it better and leave the infantry unit to focus on the lower risk task. The other aspect barely addressed in Cameron’s original article (though he alludes to it by quoting Held’s 2013 RAND study) relates to combat mass. If the assumption were to be that the standard dismounted section was six soldiers then Cameron is ostensibly saying that, in the absence of the IFV crews, the future IFV-equipped battalion should be able to do the same thing as the other battalion in the brigade. How does one account for the lack of people – a relative reduction in available mass for a dismounted task? It is not possible to ask the infantry battalion commander to do the same dismounted task as the other infantry counterpart in the brigade with ostensibly 150 or so less soldiers.  It seems that in order to actually generate the flexibility Cameron speaks of, the abiding need for the crews to be inherently of the infantry battalion accounts for the ability to create the larger section. This is in direct contradiction to his second premise.

Current policy is not an impediment to transformative change

The third point Cameron makes based on a speculative Facebook comment regarding recruiting and aptitude suggests such things are fixed in stone or that there is no precedent behind infantry operating an IFV. As the reader could expect, recruiting standards are reference points that are as flexible as the institution wants them to be. The ability to train infantry as vehicle crews is something both the Australian Army and the US Army has done for decades. In his book, Certain Victory: The US Army in the Gulf War, Robert H Scales Jr offers an account of an infantry BFV crew in combat which paints a vivid picture of a potential the Australian Army simply cannot ignore:

D Company, TF 4-7th Infantry, had moved out that morning … The Company reached Medina Ridge after only a 5km march, and Staff Sergeant Peters, the company master gunner, spotted several BMPs and T-72s dug in on the slope below his Bradley. Peters destroyed one BMP with only three quick rounds of 25mm armour-piercing ammunition, then adroitly switched his ammunition selector to high explosive to engage the Iraqis as they ran from the vehicle toward some nearby trenches. He switched back to kill a second and then a third BMP. This particular vehicle did not explode like the others, it was a T-72… Peters raised the TOW and switched sighting systems a third time. He held his cross hairs steady on the tank until missile impact and destruction. He finished this remarkable one-man gunnery demonstration by switching back to the 25mm a fourth time to kill a third BMP as his amazed company commander watched.[6]

Scales’ detailed account of the US Army in 1991 far exceeds any of the Australian Army’s recent experience with high-intensity conflict and stands as but one illustrative historical example at odds with opinions of those who would advocate differences of aptitude as a viable argument against infantry crews in IFVs.

Conclusion

This final follow-up to Bruce Cameron’s most recent reply (in the comments section of my previous article) is ultimately designed to highlight some of the foundational studies (both Winton and Rosen offer myriad examples) behind how military institutions adapt in peacetime for the casual reader whilst also debunking the myths Cameron perpetuates. Arguments over cost-effectiveness are unhelpful to the wider debate when they lack data. Suggestions on flexibility are even less helpful when they are not couched in terms of risk or even opportunity – in Cameron’s case, they appear contradictory. Lastly, the notion that there may not be the aptitude for infantry crews to operate an IFV is fundamentally false – there is more evidence for it than against in so many recent case studies. Casual statements from social media offered as evidence are unhelpful at best. Wass De Czege cautions on ‘tinkering’ as far back as 1984 as a way to illustrate the issue of conservatism in adaptation – he echoes Robert Zeigler’s 1966 assertion that those hunting for something new want a new look, but something familiar enough to suit their tastes. Haworth aptly describes the US Army’s problem with trying to effect radical change via incremental means and Urbina usefully identifies the US Army’s early 1980s confusion between APC and IFV. Studying the transition between APC and IFV from the available case studies applied through the lens of military adaptation should be the benchmark for entering the debate that Cameron initiated. In not examining the transition between APC and BFV, the Australian Army risks repeating any number of the same mistakes made by the US Army. The 50+ years of Australian Army practice with the M113 spans generations of service that is an easy fall-back position for those wanting to mirror previous experience onto something different entirely. Given the availability of evidence, infantry ownership of an IFV is a logical conclusion – it is only at odds with those who would seek to further the anachronistic paradigm, whereby infantry do not own their own vehicles, without studying recent history.  

 

  [1] Huba Wass De Czege. “How to Change an Army”, Military Review (November, 1984), 35.

[2] Harold R. Winton and David R. Mets, eds. The Challenge of Change: Military Institutions and New Realities, 1918-1941. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), xi.

[3] Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military. (New York: Cornell Press, 1994), 5.

[4] Haworth, The Bradley and how it got that way, 3.

[5] Diane L. Urbina, “Lethal Beyond All Expectations: the Bradley Fighting Vehicle”, in Hoffman, George F. and Donn A. Starry, eds, From Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S. Armored Forces. (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999), 420.

[6] Robert H Scales Jr. Certain Victory: The US Army in The Gulf War (Washington DC: Brassey’s, 1998), 296.


Portrait

Biography

Von Lambert

Von Lambert is an Australian Army infantry officer currently studying at the US Marine Corps’ School of Advanced Warfighting in Quantico, Virginia.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

Hi Levon,

I finished my article by saying that “Finally, the decision time for LAND 400 Phase 3, not only involves the best contender, but also the best way in which to incorporate the IFV into the Army’s force structure and operational planning. This is a matter which must be debated rigorously”. You refer above to “Cameron’s argument” and “his thesis”. I was not presenting an argument one way or the other, but calling for rigorous debate because of the importance of the issue.

If one is to spark a debate, one has to provide a morsel or two for others to get their teeth into. For example, I stated that if “RAAC crews operated the IFVs, training costs would be slashed. No longer would IFV qualification involve an isolated skill set. Commonality in the operation of AFVs would enable conversion courses to be conducted for commanders, gunners and drivers”.

You’ve come back and said that “The cost argument is invalid in the sense that it takes more personnel to ostensibly do the same thing the mechanised battalions have done since inception and, more importantly, Cameron offers no actual evidence to support his claim”. If we were to be debating, your team would not thank you for this. Training a soldier from scratch to operate a complex weapons system is much more expensive than converting a gunner who is already trained in operating a very similar AFV mounted cannon. This proposition does not need to be qualified in actual dollars and cents … it is readily apparent.

Your team would also be disappointed that you find the need to personalise your argument; ie. “Cameron is ostensibly saying …”; “Cameron’s sole source of evidence …”; “Cameron seems to be advocating …”; “the myths Cameron perpetuates”; etc etc. A debate focuses on the issues, not the person presenting them. This is because it is much easier to argue on a personal basis; than it is to tackle the issues themselves.
Let’s look at the matter of flexibility: “Cameron’s premise on flexibility appears based on the notion that Army would definitively require a designated infantry unit to leave an IFV behind for some other operational requirement”. This is NOT what I put forward. I said: “If RAAC crews were to operate the IFVs, three infantry battalions would not have to be designated for the mechanised role only; allowing a focus on infantry skills and normal career progression. ADF flexibility would be enhanced accordingly …”. My proposition was that, because of the complexities involved, the crew of an IFV have to be solely devoted to that skill set; they cannot be transferred ‘willy-nilly’ between non mech battalions and mech battalions and maintain an appropriate level of competency. If the RA Inf were to crew the IFV, three battalions would have to be dedicated to this role. This obviously reduces the Army’s flexibility in deployment terms.

“If it were to be higher risk …there are three other infantry battalions in other Brigades available to employ first”. This is an amazing statement in the context of ‘flexibility’. Only one of the battalions is in the ‘Ready’ brigade! How can battalions in the ‘Readying’ and ‘Reset’ phases be employed first?
Recruiting Pool. It was stated that “Recruiting targets would be restricted by requiring a third of all RA Inf to meet the same aptitude standards as RAAC. The response was that: “the notion that there may not be the aptitude for infantry crews to operate an IFV is fundamentally false – there is more evidence for it than against in so many recent case studies. Casual statements from social media offered as evidence are unhelpful at best.”

The Cove’s Facebook contributors might be a little annoyed here. Fact is that you have to pass a certain aptitude assessment to fly a helicopter. The same applies to selection for operating a complex AFV. This is not a notion; it is fact. The more stringent the criteria becomes, the smaller the recruitment poll becomes. Fact.

Finally, I have to say I totally disagree with the assertion that I advocate the “sacrifice of integration by farming it off to another corps on the premise that they would do it better and leave the infantry unit to focus on the lower risk task”. I have served both as an infantryman and as an AFV crewman and appreciate the risks associated with both roles. I would never refer to one or the other in terms of greater or lesser risk (and I’m surprised that others would do so).

There are some major issues involved in the Army’s force structure and operational planning as they relate to IFVs … let’s ‘tease’ them out by an even more rigorous debate (hopefully involving others who care enough to enter into it).

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