Please login or sign up for a new account.

I forgot my password

Password Reset

“Principles of Organization for War and Organizing for War in the Carreraverse”
Part Three: The Rest of the Organization Principles Explained by Tom Kratman

  1. Attrition: Organize for anti-fragility and ability to endure losses.

Equipment and men are destroyed or damaged, wounded or killed. Men and equipment wear out and break. We’ve already touched on organizing personnel and logistic systems to provide replacements; this principle is different. This is about organizing in such a way that a unit doesn’t collapse from losses before replacement men and equipment can be delivered.

The prejudice here is in favor of larger units. That must be balanced, though, against the need for flexibility in action, and of having sufficient units to allow rotation from the front, with the opportunity for rest and retraining, as well as assimilation and integration of new men. Too, it is unfortunate but true, commanders, historically, are sometimes more profligate with lives when their commands are bigger. Conversely, though, commanders of small and weak units will often lack boldness and decisiveness.

An aspect of attrition, mentioned above under “social cohesion,” is that small units’ morale can be much more hurt by losses than larger ones. Yes, that means that attrition is also about non-material matters.

Note, too, that imaginary combined arms formations where everything is pushed down to the smallest possible level—one infantry squad, one mech infantry squad, one tank, one engineer, etc.—would be vulnerable to being turned into non-combined arms teams by the loss of a single squad or vehicle.

  1. Mass: Organize to allow massing of combat power, and especially to give artillery “maximum feasible centralized control”

Since the Great War, and the failed experiments in trying to break machine guns by throwing bodies at them, Mass as both a principle of war and an organizations principle had meant something different from mass formations, charging ahead into blazing trenches. One way to look at it is that now, instead of massing assets, we try to disperse assets and mass effects.

Dien Bien Phu, 1954, is rather a good example of this. While it’s true that the Viet Minh did mass bodies, and used men up fairly profligately in their assaults,1 the real mass was up in the hills overlooking the French base. That mass was in the Viet Minh artillery, direct laying (as opposed to using indirect fire) on the camp, cutting it off from aerial resupply by interdiction of the airfields, suppressing and destroying French artillery, and pulverizing French strongpoints before the infantry was committed to the attack.

I’ve mentioned previously that the current Brigade Combat Team structure is just the execrable Pentomic Division, reborn, and little if at all improved over that national disaster. One of the ways this is so is in the splitting up of artillery into little penny packets, for whom massing fires is, despite automation, at least more difficult than it needs to be and quite possibly impossible. Artillery gains mass, in practice, through a principle called “Maximum Feasible Centralized Control.”

Maximum Feasible Centralized Control isn’t just about artillerymen’s anal retentiveness. Rather, it’s about massing surprise fires. For example, let us say that, to get X effect, fifty-four guns must fire one round each, all to impact at the same time. To get the same effect from a battalion or eighteen guns, each must shoot five rounds each, or ninety rounds total. For a single battery of six guns the round count goes up—and the battery must stay stationary, hence vulnerable, while they’re shooting—to something like two hundred and fifty-six rounds. For a single gun? Forget it; it has to fire over a thousand, one thousand fifty-eight, if I recall correctly, to get the same effect. This is, of course, assuming it lives long enough to.

There’s another aspect of mass that I’ll use a rule of thumb for: “Be square, somewhere.” By that I mean that one should pick a level or organization—it may be battalion or may be corps—in which there will be a fourth maneuver element, to allow a massively overwhelming attack at a single point. A, perhaps not the, but a, way of determining where this should be could be relative competence. I.e., if you think you have better battalion commanders than corps commanders, maybe you want four maneuver companies in a battalion, but if you think you have better corps commanders perhaps you might want four divisions in a corps. How, too, do you see the war unfolding? Will it be great clashes and widely sweeping operations and exploitations? That might favor a square corps. Will it be low level, and highly attritional? Maybe the square battalion is a better investment in manpower.

  1. Support: Organize for supporting arms:

There are only a few supporting arms I want to discuss. One, we already have, partially; artillery. There is another aspect to artillery, one the U.S. has tended to forget about. This is direct lay, as exercised by, among others, the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu.

But surely that’s just primitive nonsense, out of touch with the times and reality, right? Silly to risk having the gunners engaged by the enemy when they can be safely behind a hill, right? No, wrong and wrong.

There are a couple of reasons why direct lay of artillery, or heavy cannon fire, in any case, still has a place. One of these is logistic. It simply takes fewer shells to get the same effect when the gunners can see the target. The other is safety of the assaulting force, when given close support by cannon fire.

Safety of the assaulting force? Absolutely. For a number of reasons, not least the longer flight time through iffier meteorological conditions, artillery and mortars have this thing called “range probable error,” or RPE. What this means is that the shells do not land where you intend them, but fall long and short, left and right. And that, friends, is quite dangerous for infantry. What that usually means, in this decadent day, is that the artillery and mortars must lift off the target well before the infantry is in assault range, which gives the enemy a change to recover, to man his fighting positions from deeper cover, and to kill more of us.

Conversely, direct lay artillery can keep firing until you’re practically on top of the enemy, not only hurting him but keeping his head down. The safe distance there isn’t RPE, which tends to be not only distressingly large but also too long and dangerously short, but burst radius which is not only small but can be made tiny via use of delayed fuse (it goes off a short period of time after striking something, when it is buried in the ground).

It was largely for these reasons that, for example, World War II German infantry regiments had a cannon company composed of half a dozen 75mm cannon and two 150mm guns. It is for much the same reason, initially, that their Panzer Grenadiers had Sturmgeschutzen, armored cannon carriers for direct lay. It is for these reasons that Soviet self-propelled artillery could be expected (and probably Russian still can) to be often very close to the front, direct laying in support of assaulting tanks and motorized rifle troops.

Note, direct lay is considerably less wonderful when using mortars, because they’re still very high angle, plus smoothbore, hence inaccurate, which makes their RPE still substantial. In other words, no, mortars are not a good substitute for direct cannon fire.

Don’t we have any direct fire cannon capability? We have three or four. One is the light cannon of the M2 and M3 infantry and cavalry fighting vehicles. This is not necessarily good enough. Another is or soon will be the 30mm of some of the Strykers. The other is tank and mobile gun system cannon fire. The last, to the extent any may be in National Guard or Army Reserve hands, is the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle. What we do not have is direct cannon fire for light infantry. Note that we used to have some, in the form of 90mm and 106mm recoilless rifles, though there were really too short ranged to be all that useful.

Combat engineers are another matter. Unlike artillery, but like artillery forward observers, the ditch diggers fight in close proximity to infantry and armor. Where they should be, and how many there should be, are grave questions. Should there be a platoon in an infantry battalion? A regiment or brigade at division level? A company or two in some never sufficiently to be damned abortion of a brigade combat team? Put them too low and actually use them and their small size makes them vulnerable to extinction and fragile. Put them too high and not only is there no social cohesion between the ranks and the unit they’re supporting, there isn’t any among the leaders, either. Make them a brigade (as we have done at times) and you add to the proliferation of staffs and poor officers, especially if we shrink the size of their units (which we have also done).

Air Defense Artillery has, naturally, similar problems to the engineers. They have another set, though, their doctrinal—and practical—need for Mass, Mix, Mobility, and Integration (We used to say, “Mass, Mix, Mobility, and Maneuver” One wonders how many Legions of Merit were awarded for the change). Mass is easy; as with anything else it means enough of it to do the job, more or less quickly and well. Mix means that we cannot rely on just one kind of system, today typically a Stinger man-portable (sort of) missile, AKA MANPADS. Instead, ADA requires—we require them to have—light missiles, light cannon, heavier missiles, and possibly heavier cannon. And we generally don’t.

This isn’t so bad as long as we’re fighting military children and imbeciles. It becomes much more problematic facing a peer. Personally, though it was very manpower intensive and quite expensive, I rather liked the old Soviet way of doing air defense, which was thoroughly layered and dense enough to make a NATO pilot’s job rather unenviable.

In any case, the question still remains for air defense and engineers, how many and where?

  1. Range and weapons’ effects: Organize to place weapons at the right echelon.

There are reasons we don’t have entire corps of 60mm mortars. There are reasons that general purpose machine guns are generally at platoon level. There are reasons platoons do not have 155mm cannons integral to them. The reason is organizational principle: Range.

The easy version of that is that a weapon belongs at the echelon that most closely matches its area of coverage or interest without being less than that range, with modifications for the weapon’s ability to lunge into range. This, so far as I am aware, has never been articulated in either the Army’s or Marine Corps’ doctrine, but it is apparent just about everywhere.

Where do we find the 40mm grenade launchers? Fire team and squad, because the range of the 40mm (three hundred and fifty meters for an area target) is a), too low for a platoon, but b) corresponds fairly well with a squad’s area of concern in the attack and the defense. Where do we find general purpose or medium machine guns? Usually we find them at platoon, since their range isn’t enough for a company’s front, but exceeds a platoon’s. Sometimes, historically, we’ve found them down at squad level, but a more careful look at doctrine, in those cases, would show that the platoon leader retains control of where they shoot, while the rest of the squad’s major job is to defend the machine gun.

It generally works in the other direction, as well. We only retain one cannon system in heavy units (mechanized and armored), the 155mm self-propelled. Its thirty-thousand meter range corresponds very nicely to a division, in defense, while its ability to lunge allows the same in the attack. Conversely, sending it down to a brigade (see the aforementioned idiotic brigade combat team TO) wastes range. Note, too, that the current corps artillery brigades, or single, albeit large, regiments, have no cannon, but do have very long ranged missile systems, MLRS, ATACMS, and HIMARS, with ranges—up to three hundred kilometers, that, while lavish, do meet the rule above.

Note, however, that we used to have cannon in corps artillery. How did that work, when the range of the guns was usually (not always, the old M107 had an impressive range to it) less than the corps’ area of interest?

That, again, is where ability to lunge comes in. A corps can direct divisions. It can also direct an artillery battalion, brigade, or regiment to “move to x and such, priority of fires to 3rd Infantry division, by no later than . . .” with the artillery in place and ready to support by the time given.

Ah, but what about back when we used to have two batteries of MLRS in divisional artillery? Simple, their range wasn’t as great back then.

Note that range applies in the air, too.

  1. Environment: Organize to meet the demands of the physical environment in which you will wage war.

This is an environmental, mission, doctrine, and enemy-oriented principle. Thinking of it in terms of environment, contemplate the near universal organization of mountain divisions as flat organizations of two regiments. This was so, even though mountain divisions typically had smallish artillery regiments, at least in terms of numbers of guns, and were still as large as other divisions. Everyone in WW II who was entitled to an opinion on the matter—Germans, Italians, Austrians, and French . . . eventually us, too, in practice—did it this way, so one is inclined to suspect there were sound reasons. The two obvious reasons were that exploitation and rapid maneuver just were not going to happen in the high mountains at any level above perhaps battalion, and that the lack of roads, uselessness of wheeled transport, and the high logistic demands meant that the extra troops were devoted to logistics. Interestingly, our own experience with the 10th Mountain Division, in Italy, supports this. Although designed as a triangular division of three mountain infantry regiments, one of these, it was soon discovered, had to be used as porters to keep the other two operating, while the other two could maneuver well enough without a third, thank you.

This continued, by the way, into the cold war, with West Germany’s First Mountain Division being of three brigades, but only two of which were suitable for mountain operations. The third brigade was a heavy brigade, Panzer or Panzergrenadier, presumptively for use in the lowlands because completely unsuitable for use in the mountains. This didn’t really refute the principle.

Environment, to include human environment, is not related just to mountains. Any organization well designed for fighting on the steppe of Russia is going to be suboptimal for, say, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. (“Suboptimal” is code here for, “You Gotta Be Shitting Me.”) In counterinsurgency, principle of war, Mass, changes to principle of war, Density. Density is about control of people and space on the ground. Since people tend to physically live in two dimensions, as a general rule a truly square formation is superior for controlling people and space on the ground (again, think: left and right and forward and rear, if that helps). Hence, a triangular organization, or a flat one as we current have, is perhaps suboptimal (same code).

  1. Specialization: Organize to avoid overspecialization and gain appropriate specialization.

This one’s frequently a toughie and a toughie at both organizational and individual level. Any organization that specializes in only one thing will often be anywhere from poor to incompetent at something else. Note that I said “something else,” not “anything else. For example, a mountain division might be pretty much worthless if sent to defend some patch of featureless desert, without time to dig in. On the other hand, it might be very useful, perhaps with a minimal period of training or perhaps even without, in cities, in jungles—even flat ones, in the conduct of a major assault river crossing, or, say, to invade a key island to reinforce some paratroopers who, even more lightly equipped, have their fate hanging in the balance.

Note that it’s easier to give a short course and use someone for something they were not previously trained for and which requires a degree of balls when the balls quotient is high already. See, for example, German mountain troops given a quickie course in parachuting and then jumping into action in Norway, in 1940.

For individuals, a good deal of the specialization problem, when it is a problem and when it is technical, can be solved by sending someone to a school to learn something outside of his primary specialty, while leaving the basic table of organization alone.

Also note that there are some things—defense to include local security patrolling is an obvious example—that everyone and every unit not barred by the laws of war from engaging in needs to be able to do. If they cannot, that is an example of overspecialization.

  1. State Circumstances: In organizing, remember the industrial, population, and other resource limits of the state and society.

It’s absolutely critical, when designing organizations, to look at the whole societal system that will support it, from population, to tax revenues, to industrial capability, to skilled labor force to work in industry, to ability to feed. If you don’t, don’t even bother.

However, this one can be misleading; values and mores can really count. Consider Roman-ruled Italy, in 216 BC, with a population of three to four million of all ages and classes and both sexes, suggesting a military age manpower pool of perhaps three or four hundred thousand (and the latter would be pushing it). Killed or captured, they lose on one dreadful day between a third and a fifth of that, sixteen legions obliterated. And they go on to win the war, despite disasters both before and after that event.

Now look at Rome two and a quarter centuries later. They are ruling an empire of at least sixty million souls. They lose a mere three, somewhat larger legions, and a like number of auxiliaries, and that from a population perhaps twenty times larger, and it is moral, military devastation. In short, the Varian disaster of 9 AD, in the Teutobergerwald is perhaps one eightieth as bad, in objective terms, but totally crushing subjectively. Rome cannot make up the losses in the short term and only with difficulty in the long.

Something similar may well be happening—or have happened—with ourselves and most Europeans. Germany, that once had to turn people away because they were limited by treaty to a one hundred thousand man army, and which fielded about twelve million men at maximum strength for the Second World War has trouble keeping about one hundred and eighty thousand on strength now, and equal trouble keeping them combat ready.

Ah, but conscription. No, though the left seems fascinated by the military’s seeming infinite ability to change people, it’s all poppycock. All the important training takes places before the prospective serviceman ever reports to the colors. If they don’t have it then, they never will.

  1. Officers: Organize to limit the need for officers

Man is not malleable clay. Officers are not born, but neither are they made. They must have certain abilities that are innate and certain attitudes that can only come young, but even with those, without intensive and careful training they are worth little.

The Germans got by with under three percent officers in the Second World War. I would suggest that that proportion is about correct; perhaps three percent of your military force, hence a lower percent of the population at large, is suitable for commissioning.

  1. Fad resistance: Organize to ignore or resist fads and especially left wing, politically motivated fads.

There really isn’t a whole lot new in war, the last hundred (maybe two hundred) years or so, breathless predictions of revolutions in military affairs and paradigm shifts notwithstanding. Oh, sure, some new tech capability might require the creation of a specific unit or kind of unit to exploit that, but that doesn’t change the other principles.

As I’ve mentioned in other contexts with regard to principles of war, one of the prime uses of lists of principles like this one is defense against the poorly thought out fad. As I think I’ve indicated, our current never sufficiently to be damned abortion of a table of organization, the Brigade Combat Team, could never have survived scrutiny based in these principles.

One doubts, too, that it’s intellectual mongoloid of a predecessor, the Pentomic Division, would have survived, either.

  1. Expansion: Organize to be able to rapidly expand the existing force in the event of war.

No one can hope to maintain in peacetime the entire force needed for a potentially existential war. Even if one could, the expense would break you, the diversion of high quality manpower would derange your society, so badly that you would end up ruined even without the war. In short, every armed force is also the basis for creating a larger armed force. But how to do this?

There are a number of ways, which are frequently mutually supportive rather than mutually incompatible. One way is what we did for World War II, discussed above, the bicellular fission of divisions. This, interestingly, was also the method chosen by the West German Army in the 50s, probably because they had fallen under our tutelage.

One can maintain a reserve under which there are large and complete formations already organized and only awaiting the call up to gather and march to war. This was a good deal of the cause of the slide to war in 1914, but no one can say it cannot work. The Swiss and Israelis, by the way, and formerly the bulk of the Scandinavian countries used little but this system, with regular cadre being devoted nearly exclusively to higher leadership and staff work, as well as running schools.

Note that a reserve system can have units echeloned by manning, training, and equipment levels, such that one echelon is ready to go on call, while another might need to assimilate a number of recently discharged reservists, and still another might need those, extensive re-equipping, and a lengthy period of training, and still others might be nothing but a tiny cadre which will have to train new men and accept new equipment, both lengthy processes, before it can be used. This was generally a feature of the Soviet reserve system, to include, in the last case, having regular personnel assigned to first rate formations, which personnel would drop out to begin to raise “second formations.”

One can also, and should also, maintain large numbers of individuals who are fully trained, to be used as fillers for losses and to create and train new formations. In the United States, the main components of these are retired reservists, individual ready reservists (those personnel discharged from active or drilling reserve organizations, but not yet fully discharged from their full military obligation), and a sort of loose conglomeration of reservists—“tour babies,” they’re sometimes called—who make something like a living by just volunteering to do active tours to aid the regular forces. I used to have a very good supply guy reservist who would show up about twelve to eighteen weeks out of the year to help my supply sergeant handle the nearly impossible burdens of an almost four hundred man company with one hundred and nine wheeled and armored vehicles and more sets, kits, and outfits than I really like to think about.

One could also, in theory, echelon mobilization levels such that one level is active, forms both a cadre for a larger unit as well as a tactically or operationally effective unit on its own. This could have several layers, or blocks, or mobilization levels, to it. The unique weakness of this approach would lie in the potential of losing one’s entire cadre for an organization, thus rendering the entire organization combat ineffective, before the subsequent blocks can be mobilized.

There are problems with all these, as well as advantages. The big advantages are potential size and money savings, while avoiding societal derangement by excessive diversion of human talent. Conversely, though, to the extent you rely on reservists, who will rarely if ever be as well trained as regulars (how can they be, really, unless, in practice, they are regulars?) you are also saying you will accept greater loss of life among less well-trained troops.

Note, one thing needed by reserve formations are full timers, who may legally be reservists, too, but are not, in practice, and who do the administration, provide a cadre of expertise, and generally hold things together. This needs to be accounted for in the personnel manning of the entire organization.

Acquiring and planning for the integration of allied foreign troops, as the Soviets did with the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War, is another way of expanding on the cheap.

  1. Frugality. Don’t waste manpower and other resources.

One would think this would go without saying. My experience is that it never goes without saying.

Of course, we could argue about what constitutes waste. Is the Army Band a waste? Maybe; but at least I could be convinced that it does something for the Army commensurate with the human and fiscal cost. On the other hand, I can vaguely recall a video on YouTube showing the Indian Army’s precision itty bitty bicycle team. Manpower must be cheap and plentiful, indeed, to justify something like that.

And we laugh, right? But how about the thousands of soldiers on any given day in our Army or Marine Corps or Navy or Air Force on this and that semi-professional athletics team?

How do you control that kind of waste? After all, the TO already has no slots for that kind of thing? Look for the headquarter and morale support personnel who push for it and have made careers of it, and get rid of them by wiping their organization from the TDA (Table of Distribution and Allowances). Get rid of the highest level teams that this kind of wastage feeds into.

I’m a bit of a fanatic about this. Not only did I spend more than a few days as a private carrying more than my body weight, fifteen or twenty miles a day, because the guy who, say, should have been carrying the mortar barrel while I had the bipod was detailed to special duty on, say, the division volleyball team, leaving me to carry both. Worse, though, was a first sergeant I had inflicted on me as a rifle company commander. This guy had twenty-two years in the Army, of which he had spent something like seventeen or eighteen either boxing for the Army or coaching the Army’s boxing team. Not a bad guy, and I am sure I wouldn’t have wanted to get in the ring with him except as a ref, but he was no kind of first sergeant at all.

  1. Compatibility: Organize so that everything fits together reasonably well.

This is a case of there being no real possibility of everything fitting together perfectly, so of doing the best you can. Part of this is making your units and the equipment that carries them around compatible with each other, as well as making your transportation organizations suitable to move units while letting them maintain cohesion. But there is considerably more to it than that. All that said, though, there a lot of redundant capacity floating, rolling, and flying around.

Consider the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. In theory it can carry eleven combat equipped troops but in practice it can haul quite a few more. We’ll stick with theory. So three of them can carry a platoon. Oops, no, they really can’t. A platoon—thirty-nine men - is not only bigger than thirty-three men, so we’ll need four Blackhawks for the lift. Oh, but the waste; comptrollers and congressional aides everywhere are losing sleep over the sheer waste of having five seats unoccupied in the four helicopters! Fraud! Waste! Abuse!

No, not really. In the first place, there are three standard attachments to that theoretically full strength platoon, a forward observer and his radio telephone operator, plus a medic. So it’s only two seats “wasted.”

Course, that’s just theory, because the next time a full-strength platoon boards four helicopters will probably be the first in a while. Units are almost never at full strength. Moreover, as the size of the unit going into the same LZ (Landing Zone) increases, the odds become better that every seat will be filled . . . even as they become better that every helicopter will be overfilled.

And that has an issue different from the carrying capacity of our theoretical helicopter; do the helicopter units have the capability of lifting a complete unit without either having to go to another helicopter unit to get help, without having to fly helicopters that ought to be in maintenance, and without forcing a unit that needs to get on the ground as a whole into being sent into action in penny packets.

Let me give you a highly illustrative example of what that looks like. The book and movie, We Were Soldiers? It’s not as clear in the movie as it was in the book, but the real disaster came before Hal Moore’s battalion ever made contact with the NVA. It came with the decision to split up the aviation assets such that every battalion had twenty, enough to lift one full strength company . . . maybe. (Why maybe? Helicopter lift drops as the air thins, warms, and moistens, and Vietnam was notable for being both warm and wet . . . and frequently for being quite high up there, to boot.)

In any event, what that meant was that Moore couldn’t put more than a single company, give or take, into action at a time. This is what we in the business call “inviting destruction in detail.” (No criticism of Moore; he doesn’t seem to have been given a lot of choice.)

This principle, in this example, by the way, also implicates principles mass and range. Do you mass enough helicopters to do the job and where does their range suggest they be assigned? The answer to the first one is obvious, no they did not. The answer is that in a place like Vietnam, at that time, they probably needed to be at division. (People critical of our conduct of the war on Vietnam—not that there isn’t room for criticism—often miss that the enemy gets a vote, too, that out actions were also constrained by the presence of large, well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led and determined large formations of Viet Cong and NVA.)

It has happened, by the way, that an aviation organization is carefully tailored to support a ground unit. I know of two such examples. One was the TO strength of a Luftwaffe JU-52 wing, two hundred and twelve aircraft, which, as it turned out, was precisely enough to lift one Fallschirmjaeger regiment. The other was the aviation brigade of the 101st Airborne, circa 1975, four hundred and twenty-two helicopters’ worth, which was designed expressly to lift an entire infantry brigade of three battalions, with their tactical vehicles and heavy weapons, plus artillery, engineer, air defense, and the rest. (I saw this done exactly once in two years; thing of beauty it was too, to see over four hundred helicopters leap into the sky pretty much simultaneously. For the minor historians among us, the exercise was called “Orbiting Eagle IV.”) Note, further, that three lifts, provided the choppers weren’t attritted too badly by air defense and the Air Force kept the Soviet fighters off our back, and the whole division, less some support troops, was in their rear.

This, by the way, illustrates a general problem; no TO carefully designed to do a particular thing with perfect efficiency—which is very different from effectiveness—is going to be able to do the same thing so well after some losses. In other words, redundancy is good in war. See principle, Attrition.

Now consider the Bradley-mounted infantry unit. The vehicles will hold a maximum of thirty-six men. Subtract three of those for the forward observers and the medic. That leaves thirty-three. Typically thirteen; four three-man crews and the platoon sergeant, will stay with the vehicles when the rest dismount. You can make two decent-sized squads out of the remaining twenty, plus have the platoon leader and a radio telephone operator for him. Alternatively, you could make three undersized squads/oversized fireteams. If one does this the platoon leader has five subordinate elements, three squads plus two Bradley sections, which is pushing breaking span of control (See principle 3, above).

Still, it could be done. What cannot be done is to add even one more man to the platoon, not to subtract even one from the squads, not without letting them ride forward outside of the armor. (“A dangerous pastime.” “I know.”)

Now consider some of the logistic implications. Before devolving to the rather marginal T (for Tray) ration, U.S. combat units had, integral to battalion or company, though often effectively consolidated at brigade and regiment, mess platoons and teams. The general scale of manning for these was four men for the first hundred to be fed, and three or fraction of three for each additional hundred. This was enough, in the field, to feed two hot meals a day, provided the cooks worked like slaves, which they generally did. (I had a mess platoon as an additional duty as a lieutenant. My cooks worked ninety-eight to one hundred and four hours a week. Yes, seriously; it was inhuman. And it was worse in the field.) We did this for reasons of health, more than anything, having had bad experiences with over feeding of canned combat rations during the Second World War.

Note, on much reduced manning, we still generally try to feed two hot meals a day, via the tray pack ration.

The Brits, on the other hand, last time I looked closely, which was in 1991, had about a third our scale of cooks, though better trained ones. They only planned on feeding a hot meal about every three days, on average. In other words, today we feed A Company a lunch, tomorrow B Company gets a hot breakfast, and tomorrow night C Company gets a hot dinner. The Brits fed hot meals not for reasons of health, as near as I could determine, but for reasons of morale and even social cohesion.

All that’s just background. For education’s sake, what do those two different feeding approaches mean to the rest of the combat feeding system? Among other things, for us it means that a daily combat ration, three meals in a pack or perhaps twenty-seven to thirty in a larger pack for a squad, are wasteful. We pretty much must have individual meals, which means we cannot, as the Brits are wont to, issue food that the squad leader can detail one of the men to prepare for everyone. The Brits, conversely, could have individual meals (and since the demise of the Compo ration, do) or larger group feeding menus, if they wish to retain those.

And how you feed is going to affect the number and kind of trucks you need, which, themselves will change the number and kind of trucks they need.

The root core of logistics, by the way, is “lodging.” Quartermaster? Yes, he was someone who, among other things, worried about quartering the troops.

Think about “lodging;” think about “barracks.” Troops get attached to their barracks, and even for those who live elsewhere, married men and leaders, married or not, the barracks are “home,” “our place,” and a focus of building social cohesion in general.

From a mix of people—generals, usually—tinkering with TOs, plus coddling of troops masquerading as enlightenment, plus coddling that’s really just a recruiting and retention tool, plus perhaps the occasional unutterably corrupt California senator whose husband can make a few billion building new style barracks for the military,2 the barracks sizes rarely—maybe never, anymore—match the size of the TO. Even if they did, perhaps accounting for the number of junior officer and mid-grade and senior NCOs, the frequency with which junior troops marry means you can’t even hope to match the number of inhabitants to a given barracks size.

The answer to this, by and large, has come in one of two forms; either the barracks are turned into mere holding areas for multiple units or what are called “modular barracks” are built and assigned to units, with some degree of geographical proximity, based on billeted strength. The problem with both is that, for what amounts to a fairly trivial savings in money in the form of heating and maintaining “wasted” space, we dispense with a key aspect of building social cohesion. This is, as they say, “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

By the way, my troops hated the modular barracks; they were a perfect example of efficiency at the expense of utility, being hard to clean, hence dirty, crowded, hence unhealthy, and damaging to a company’s sense of being a special society or, rather, a big family.

What happens across the spectrum, compatibility-wise, is that after time, little by little, most of the incompatible things are worked on and fixed, even while other things crop up as people tinker with and derange the system.

There’s no definitive answer here; like other principles it is a thinking and educational point.

  1. Politics: Organize for leaders and staff to have a voice equal to their military value and use, organize to preserve two-way communications. Match responsibility to relative rank within the organization.

THE principle, the one inviolable principle, the principle that dominates all others, amongst U.S. forces and most, maybe all, of our allies is this: Organize to maintain and, wherever possible, to increase the number of flag officers (generals and admirals) to the maximum feasible number and percentage, lest we be disadvantaged in the command, budget, and bureaucracy stakes.

However, the principle of politics is not just about interservice and inter-alliance rivalry and relative advantage. It goes down to the lowest levels and to every level in between.

Let me give one illustrative example; the Israeli tank company. This is a formation of eleven tanks, probably under fifty men, commanded by a major. Now fifty men is just a platoon, why isn’t it treated as a platoon and led by a lieutenant or, for an army with a professional NCO corps, a gunnery sergeant, sergeant first class, or, at the highest, a master sergeant?

After all, it wouldn’t break anyone’s span of control, the platoon leader or platoon commander would have three direct subordinates, plus a platoon sergeant in the odd tank out, to assist. The tank “squad leader” would have, like an infantry squad leader, had himself and a tank to either side, just like fire teams.

Here’s why not, even if the master sergeant could employ his eleven tank platoon more deftly than that major could, which is not beyond the realm of the conceivable: Go back to the principle on creating combined arms teams. If we had eleven tank platoons, and sent two of them, one led by a lieutenant, one by a master sergeant, down to a mechanized infantry battalion, nobody would listen to that sergeant and that lieutenant. They simply lack the rank and political horsepower. Moreover, the forty-six tank company from which they were sent, upon receiving two infantry companies in return, would have a commander who would now find he now had two subordinates who likely had very different ideas about who was in charge of matters. He also, being a mere company, would lack much of a staff.

You can see this problem more or less accounted for with our aviation and special forces, in both of which companies are commanded by majors. This, however, has not been well thought through.

Example, special forces operates in small detachments, called “ODAs,” commanded by captains, and sometimes gets support from other units also, some of which are commanded by captains, some of whom are senior to the ODA commanders. Special Operations Command takes the position that it is proper for the ODA commander to be in charge. I am inclined to think that it is at least wise, in theory, if not quite proper. It is probably not, however, legal. The Code of Conduct, plus military customs and regulations, demand that the senior captain take command. He has no legal choice. A four-star general telling him that he does, or that he must follow the orders of the junior, is issuing an illegal order because no four-star general outranks the President of the United States, whose order on the matter is expressed in the Code of Conduct, an order of continuing effect: “If senior I will take command,” isn’t just for the POW camp. The fact that some four-star’s SOP told you that you were under someone junior to you will cut no ice if things turn to crap and you end up before a court-martial. (See Article 92 (3), Dereliction of Duty, Uniform Code of Military Justice. No four-star outranks that, either.)

This is not, by the way, merely bad for the senior captain potentially forced to obey a junior. That junior captain, too, is in a nightmare position. This would all be less of a problem, by the way, if the principles of social cohesion and limitations on the numbers of officers were adhered to, such that both captains were in the same “company,” so to speak.

What’s the answer? The dumb look on my face is sincere, but it’s probably not to assign senior captains to commanding four-man civil affairs teams which are then attached to twelve-man special forces teams commanded by junior captains. It might be to make non-coms—lieutenants lack experience and maturity, generally—to lead civil affairs teams or it might be to get special forces to do that part of the job they were designed to do, which included nation building, which included an aspect of civil affairs. The organizational principle of Politics, in any case, ought to be consulted.


1) No real criticism; when guts is mostly what you have to use, guts us what you use.

2) https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2015/12/10/feinstein_corruption_1.2.pdf around page 37. I seem to recall that Feinstein is not the only liberal California politician guilty of this.

Copyright © 2018 Tom Kratman

This is the third of four entries in this series. Part 1 and Part 2 are now available. Part 4 will be available next month. Tom Kratman’s latest entry in the Carerra series is November’s A Pillar of Fire by Night. Tom Kratman was a Regular Army infantryman much of his adult life. After the Gulf War, and with the bottom dropping completely out of the anti-communist market, Tom decided to become a lawyer. Every now and again, when the frustrations of legal life and having to deal with other lawyers got to be too much, Tom would rejoin the Army (or a somewhat similar group, say) for fun and frolic in other climes. He no longer practices law, but instead writes full time. His novels for Baen include A State of DisobedienceCaliphate, and the series consisting of A Desert Called PeaceCarnifexThe Lotus EatersThe Amazon LegionCome and Take ThemThe Rods and the Axe, and A Pillar of Fire by Night, as well as three collaborations with John Ringo, Watch on the RhineYellow Eyes, and The Tuloriad. Also for Baen, he has written the first three volumes of the modern-day military fiction Countdown series.