Tactical and Technical

Anti-Armour in the Armoured Infantry Battalions: time to focus on what we need DFSW Platoons to do on the battlefield - killing tanks

By Braden Holmes September 23, 2020


Armoured Infantry Anti-Armour Platoons: The anti-armour effect provides a mounted and dismounted capability to destroy armour out to extended ranges.

- Concept for Employment for the Australian Army’s Combat Brigade

Introduction

The past decade has seen a constant evolution of the structure of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR). Consequently, the 2012 doctrine experiment with eight person rifle sections, Manoeuvre Support Sections, the short-lived Standard Infantry Battalions and finally the divergent roles of motorised and mechanised units has resulted in the APC and PMV returning to the infantry - where they belong.  As a result, a review of training solutions that were developed and implemented in previous years is now required. This includes the infantry battalion’s organic direct fire asset: the Direct Fire Support Weapons (DFSW) platoon. This article proposes an amended training continuum for DFSW that is synchronised with the current structure of the RAR.

Background

DFSW platoon provides infantry battalions with direct fire support; tracing its origins through the separate anti-tank and machines gun platoons from the early years of the RAR. Fiscal and manning issues of the 1980s and subsequent unit establishment reviews saw the amalgamation of the previously separate and distinct anti-armour (AArmd) and sustained fire machine gun (SFMG) platoons[1]. With this amalgamation, DFSW platoon members trained in both roles and over the following years, the platoon’s inventory has gradually increased and grown more complex with a CSS burden[2]. The structure of the platoon, being three sections and a platoon HQ, has remained relatively constant over this time regardless of light, motorised or mechanised mobility platforms[3].

The evolution of operations since the turn of the century has seen the Infantry Battalion evolve into a more complex element. This has impacted particularly upon the specialists in support companies. Their roles, previously seen as additional skills to be picked up in the course of normal duties, have evolved into much more complex skill sets requiring higher levels of training and professionalism. The specialist soldier and JNCO are given greater autonomy than their counterparts in a Rifle Company and are expected to operate independently from their Platoon headquarters in support of a larger CT or BG. The specialist is an expert in the employment of their capabilities and is expected to advise higher ranks on the best use of these specialist assets, often in combined arms settings. This stands true for a DFSW soldier or Section Commander, as they wield immediate control over several critical decisive weapon systems and their effects.

Capability

DFSW platoon is employed in a wide variety of tasks; however, they are notably employed to suppress, neutralise or destroy enemy dismounts, vehicles or structures. This is achieved through a variety of weapon systems broken into the following two categories[4]:

  • Anti-Armour
    • 84mm M3 Carl Gustav Medium Direct Fire Support Weapon (MDFSW) - a crew-served reusable AArmd weapon with a wide variety of ammunition. Additional optics or thermal sights can be attached to support night operations.
    • Javelin FGM-148 Direct Fire Guided Weapon System (DFGWS) - a crew-served fire and forget guided missile weapon able to defeat armour out to 2000m.
  • Machine Guns
    • 7.62mm MAG 58 Extended Range Machine Gun (ERMG) - fitted with a C2 sight and tripod, a MAG 58 can be employed in an extended range role with harassing fire out to 3000m. Usually employed in pairs in either the direct and indirect method with the support of an observer.
    • 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) - supports destruction of structures and light armoured vehicles out to 2000m. Can support an indirect fire capability out to 6000m.
    • Mk47 Lightweight Automatic Grenade Launcher (LWAGL) - includes a sighting system with ballistic computer and thermal imagery to support the destruction of point targets or light armoured vehicles out to 2000m.

With this variety of systems, soldiers require a significant amount of time and resources to qualify and become proficient in the operation of each weapon system and its tactical employment. Currently, soldiers and officers have to complete six-weeks of training to become basic DFSW qualified as out lined in Figure 1. This is a significant impost on any unit, in particular a mechanised DFSW platoon[5] which have larger training burdens associated with their platform and should be narrowing their specialisation to AArmd employment only rather than completing this current training schedule. The MG capability can be filled by the mechanised companies, as each section is equipped with a 12.7mm HMG through their APC.

On promotion, JNCOs within the DFSW capability and selected Infantry lieutenants complete an additional Officer and NCO (Offr/NCO) course to enable DFSW tactical planning and range safety skills. In order to support the transition between the two capabilities, consolidate resources and have one central point of contact for all DFSW instruction and training, the current Offr/NCO course should remain the same for both mechanised and motorised personnel.

 

Figure 1: Current DFSW Training Structure[6]. (Note: The Courses in orange are not a part of the Basic DFSW Course. They are standalone courses raised in conjunction.)

 
An improved training continuum

As outlined in Figure 2, Basic DFSW training separates the two modules of AArmd and MG. This enables AArmd Pls to conduct training only relevant to achieving dismounted and mounted AArmd tasks. Dismounted 12.7 HMG and MAG 58 ERMG will be removed from training since the APC provides intimate 12.7 mm HMG fire to a similar effect. This premise already fits within current DFSW doctrine[6]. This proposal will not see MG training and doctrine deleted from the system. Motorised DFSW platoons will still maintain a direct, ER and SFMG capability which will require training in both modules. In addition, MG training can still be completed by AArmd Pls if required or directed to.

To implement this proposal, the Employment Specifications (ES) for a DFSW specialist soldier (ECN 343-37) would need to be amended. For a DFSW soldier to receive specialist pay, they must meet the requirements listed in the Rifleman’s ES. This list currently includes all courses listed in Figure 2[7]. Additionally, they must be posted to DFSW platoon within the unit’s establishment. The proposed training continuum requires SFMG training to be removed from the ES by either deleting all MG training from the course list or including a note that exempts mechanised units from needing this course. Once amended, a DFSW soldier in a mechanised unit can achieve specialist pay without completing SFMG training. Subsequently, saving up to four weeks of training for mechanised units allowing them to concentrate on other important skills, such as vehicle training or husbandry. In addition to the amendment to ES, this proposal remains aligned to the intent of the Rifleman Employment Category Court Book[8] as approved by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal in 2010.

 

Figure 2: Proposed separation of DFSW AArmd and MG training[10] (Note: The Courses in orange remain standalone courses)

 

This proposal also provides an opportunity to enhance the Army’s existing AArmd training. Examples of further training include; specialist armoured ambushing and raiding, AArmd attack by fire (ABF) and support by fire (SBF) employment, armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) and rotary wing aircraft (RWA) identification and ISR ability through advanced weapon optics, and BG and CT reserve tasks. AArmd Pl would be the custodians of AFV recognition and AArmd skills, allowing them to deliver just-in-time training to all soldiers of the unit as required. AArmd Pl could also develop new TTPs to defeat advanced active protection systems in modern armour that are now prolific on the battlefield[9]

An opportunity also exists to adapt the Army’s SFMG training. Chris Thorburn[10] provides a practical proposal to use protected weapon stations (PWS) on PMVs as an alternative to a dismounted ERMG role. The use of a PWS in both direct and indirect MG support roles provides a motorised commander increased mobility, protection and flexibility in the battlespace. If a mechanised unit deploys on operations that require a dismounted MG capability, the MG training module can be conducted as part of their pre-deployment training. Alternatively, a motorised DFSW platoon can deploy with that unit as has been done many times over the Army’s contemporary operational history[11].

Conclusion

DFSW PL utilise a suite of systems to enhance the Battalions manoeuvrability and freedom of action. The proposed separating of training as proposed in Figure 2 is a way to increase the effectiveness of AArmd systems within an AArmd Pl through specialisation. Mechanised units have a turreted 12.7 mm HMG on their APC and in the future, these units will transition to a 30 mm cannon to suppress, neutralise and destroy the enemy. By narrowing the training focus to AArmd capability, AArmd Pl will be able to concentrate on maintaining a specialised infantry AArmd capability that provides a mounted and dismounted method of disrupting AFV and other high valued targets. MG training and capability will remain within the motorised battalions of the RAR. This proposal aims to align DFSW training within Forces Commander’s Training Transformation intent.

 

End notes

[1] LWP-CA (DMTD CBT) 3-3-4 Infantry Direct Fire and Manoeuvre Support and MLW 2-1-1 The Infantry Battalion of 04 Nov 1983.

[2] In 2015 1 RAR DFSW trialled assigning each DFSW section a particular capability, 1 x HMG 1 x AGL and 1 x Javelin. This was when MSS could take up the MAG58 and 84mm capabilities within Rifle Coys. This trial was unsuccessful due limited systems, manning constraints and the degradation of skills on weapons they were not using meaning it was difficult to move between sections. Soldiers were qualified but not competent.

[3] In 2016 3RAR DFSW trialed dedicated sections in a different way; 2 x MG sections and 2 x AArmd sections. The intent was to achieve greater lethality through the concentration of training. The trial showed a greater level of proficiency and lethality was achieved however, due to deployments and re-mechanisation, this concept was largely forgotten.

[4] Information from the Australian Army’s open source website.

[5] Mechanised DFSW platoons are referred to as AArmd PL from this point on to avoid confusion with motorised DFSW capability.

[6] Course lengths are IAW the respective LMPs listed on LMPSS. Course order is for representation only, it does not represent the actual course structure. Acknowledge that the course days do not add up to six weeks exactly, this is due to efficiencies achieved at combining the separate LMPs concurrent activity and weekend work.

[7] Para 3.16 of LWP-CA (DMTD CBT) 3-3-4 Infantry Direct Fire and Manoeuvre Support details that the ERMG capability is underused in mechanised units as the APC provides this support.

[8] Annex N to Chapter 2 to Part 2 to ECN 343 Employment Specification Career Profile: CAREER PROFILE – RIFLEMAN GRADE 3 SPECIALIST DFSW (ECN 343-37) (ARA/ARes).

[9] RAINF Court Book Determination of 2010 Annex B-5 – Rifleman Employment Category. Details the following IRT the DFSW Specialist: ‘The role of the DFSW specialist is to provide the battalion with a heavy direct fire capability over extended ranges. The current employment of the MAG 58 GPMG in the sustained fire role is due to be superseded by an AGL. This new capability has an introduction into service date of mid – 2010 under Land 40-2. The DFSW specialist must also be proficient in the tactics for employing the Javelin and 84mm MDFSW to defeat enemy fortifications and armour’.

[10] Non-DFSW soldiers can conduct standalone courses although DFSW will remain the custodians and SMEs of these courses.

[11] Delany, V 2020, On Killing Tanks, Modern War Institute, 23 Mar, viewed on 17 June.

[12] Thorburn, C 2019, Indirect Machine Gunnery for the Motorised Battalion, The Cove, 09 Aug.

[13] BG Faithful deployed on Operation Astute in 2006 consisted of HQ 3 RAR; B Coy 3 RAR, A Coy 1 RAR, C & D Coy 2 RAR, G Coy (108 Field Battery) 4 RAA, B Sqn 3/4 Cav and 16 Cmbt Eng Sqn 3 CER. (Wikipedia – Operation Astute)

 

 

Bibliography

Australian Defence Magazine 2020, Spike LR2 chosen for long range direct fire support, 5 Feb, viewed on 10 June 2020, <https://www.australiandefence.com.au/defence/land/spike-lr2-chosen-for-long-range-direct-fire-support>.

Delany, V 2020, On Killing Tanks, Modern War Institute, 23 Mar, viewed on 17 June, < https://mwi.usma.edu/on-killing-tanks/>.

Department of Defence 1983, MLW 2-1-1 The Infantry Battalion, Canberra

Department of Defence 2010, Court Book Determination: Annex B-5 – Rifleman Employment Category, Canberra

Department of Defence 2011, LWP-CA (DMTD CBT) 3-3-4 Infantry Direct Fire and Manoeuvre Support, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Department of Defence 2019, ECN 343 Employment Specification Career Profile, Canberra

Department of Defence 2020, Equipment of the Australian Army, viewed on 17 June 2020, <https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/equipment-uniforms/equipment>.

Mills, W & Rasmussen M 2019, Brining anit-armor back: fixing a critical capability gap in the Marine Corps, Modern War Institute, 11 Jan, viewed on 10 June 2020, <https://mwi.usma.edu/bringing-anti-armor-back-fixing-critical-capability....

N, L 2020, Australian Army Boxer ATGM Capability Reduced, Overt Defense, 20 Mar, viewed on 10 June 2020, <https://www.overtdefense.com/2020/03/30/australian-army-boxer-atgm-capability-reduced/>.

Petersen, J 2019, The Anti-Armour Capability Gap, The Cove, 02 Apr.

Thorburn, C 2019, Indirect Machine Gunnery for the Motorised Battalion, The Cove, 09 Aug.

US Department of Navy 2016, The Marine Corps Operating Concept, Washington D.C.


Portrait

Biography

Braden Holmes

Braden Holmes is currently posted to the Combined Arms Training Centre as the SO3 RAInf Trade and Training. He has been a Platoon Commander and Mortar Line officer in 7RAR and a Company 2IC and Mortar Platoon Commander in 3RAR. In 2017 he deployed to Iraq as part of Taji 5 as a Training Team Leader.

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.



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