Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Praxis: Some random stuff on light infantry logistics.

By popular demand, a praxis post.

“Amateurs study tactics; generals study logistics.” -- Military aphorism.

From The Nature of Light Infantry:


The central theme of the logistical philosophy of light infantry is simple: light infantry forces recognize the importance of logistics, but they refuse to be tied - either physically or mentally - to lines of communication. For light infantry, logistical planning influences, but it does not control, operational planning. Light infantrymen figure that in a pinch, they can always improvise; if necessary, they can do without.

To support themselves, light infantry forces often make maximum use of local resources. They employ the local population for certain kinds of labor, they eat the foods that nature (or natives) provide, they use natural materials for camouflage and protection, and they use the enemy's food, weapons, and ammunition against him. As masters of the environment, light infantrymen know how to exploit nature for their own sustainment.

Light infantry also improvises to simplify or solve its logistical requirements. It is always looking for lighter and better equipment or for natural substitutes. The use of elephants by the Chindits as pack animals and to clear landing zones is an example. The manner in which the 82d Airborne Division used civilian vehicles for transport in Grenada is a more modern example.

When light infantrymen transport items on their persons, specific loads are not prescribed. Individual loads vary widely based on the factors of METT-T. The Chindits had to carry about seventy pounds per man in Burma, but the SAS in Borneo insisted that their rucksacks weigh no more than fifty pounds. In the 1982 Falkland Islands War, the situation demanded that soldiers carry an average of more than 100 pounds per man. Within a given theater, for a specific campaign, however, loads can be standardized. Several principles govern the establishment of such a standard soldier's load.

Light infantrymen must be trained to carry only what is essential; NCOs and junior officers must ruthlessly restrict what soldiers put in their rucksacks. Experience will help train the men, but leaders must constantly check and correct the loads. Also, every effort must be made to lighten the soldier's load through technology and ingenuity (such as lighter rations, weapons and ammunition, and radios). Leaders at high levels must make a point of responding to the ideas of their subordinates on this matter. In addition, when local situations change, SOPs need to change. Above all, light infantrymen must not be so loaded down that they are continuously exhausted, inattentive, and unready.

Collapsible water containers.

The American constitutional militia light infantry unit is almost always too small to have an organized logistical tail to support them so they must see to their own preparations. Principal among these are pre-sited sustainment caches of food, water, medical supplies and ammo. In arid AOs such as the southwest desert where hydration is critical and water sources are at best seasonal, some units use these for water storage:

The five gallon collapsible container is available from a variety of sources, and they come in all shapes and, importantly, levels of the quality of their manufacture, so be careful about which type you choose. I've known some folks to pick up collapsible containers that are used in chow halls and cafeterias, such as the milk bladders with a spout that go in milk dispensers. These are generally stouter and made of better material than the cheap Chinese stuff you get at Cheaper Than Dirt. They clean them out and re-use them for cached water storage. The advantage of the collapsible container is that once empty they can be easily retrieved for cleaning and refilling, much more so than a bulky rigid container.

Remember, if you are burying them, be sure and do so below the frost line in your AO.

Kids as logistics multipliers.

Had a discussion some years ago with a former Contra who, at the ripe age of ten, was employed along with his young friends by his village mayor to scour the trash of the local Sandinista barracks and to police up scenes of old firefights for reusable material. The Viet Cong also used this force multiplier to scavenge abandoned American positions, for the GIs were notorious for leaving all manner of militarily useful stuff laying around when they pulled out of a temporary fire base.


Anonymous said...

Light Infantry will also use men as their mules. Every soldier will carry his one water source and limited ammo but another soldier, or two will carry extra water, or ammo for everyone. This allows the fighting men to move faster and respond quicker.
It is a man powered logistic train, or a moving chache.

Anonymous said...

To educate those Southwesterners who don't know what is a "frost line". In winter, when the ambient temperature gets below freezing, the water in the ground freezes also. After a prolonged time below freezing the "frost line" is how deep in the soil the water is frozen. In really cold places like the Minnesota, it can be as deep as 36 inches. In the desert regions of AZ, NM, TX and CA, the time below freezing (32 F) is never long enough to cause soil moisture to freeze. Also, the amount of moisture in the soil is negligible. I've practiced engineering in AZ for over 30 years and I once had to teach an engineer in Chicago about "frost line".

JoeFromSidney said...

The Viet Cong were masters of "preparing the battlefield." They would cache ammunition etc. on the battlefield before the battle. They would have villagers bury containers of rice where the VC could dig them up. Caching something risks having it found, but it beats carrying it.

Dakota said...

Another good water container that works well is the 5 gallon plastic containers that have heavy cardboard coverings that restaurants throw away regularly. When they change the oil in their fryers most of the time these end up in the dumpster. They have a great screw on lid and are stackable as much as 3 high. Just wash them with a little Dawn dish soap that "cuts the grease" and then rinse thoroughly. They are excellent and cheap. If you have friends that work in a restaurant or know someone ask them to save them along with the lids (they usually don't replace them when they go in the dumpster.

ParaPacem said...

Several things really rang home with me from this article; the example of the VC was exactly right. and of course in any guerrilla action, the home team has the highest advantage of travelling light, in companies or platoons or as lone wolves.

And for the prime example of applying this logistical strategy to large, heavier groups, consider Rommel's 'Ghost division' of Panzers and support crew, moving so rapidly that often their own HQs were in the dark as to location, operation and strategies.

Finally- in certain groups that I used to work with, 'dumpster diving' was a regular activity; my own favored move was to take trash bags matching the kind used by the 'targets', stuffing ours with old newspaper and trash, quickly swapping ours for theirs during night time, then taking their stuff to a safe locale, using heavy rubber gloves and surgical masks for protection whilst going through every item thoroughly, at our own convenience.
Sometimes amazing and very unexpectedly useful things can be accumulated this way.

A Californian Behind The Lines said...

I always find the Praxis posts interesting.

Incidentally, if anyone's interested in the whole book, it's available as a PDF in several parts (annotated bibliography further down the page) at the
CGSC Combat Studies Institute content website.

Some other interesting-looking titles on the page as well.