Putting Your Young Men in the Mud
Over the past 100 years, the manner in which the infantry battalion is employed has undergone revolutionary change— something that is not always appreciated by those who regard the infantry as the unskilled labour force of the battlefield. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This paper discusses the implications of the transition from relatively unskilled mass industrial-age infantry to the information-age specialists who dominate the modern battlespace. Oddly, these changes have not been reflected in a fundamental reassessment of the role of the battalion in the Army's order of battle. This paper examines the key historical influences on the employment of the infantry battalion in the modern period. These influences include the ongoing and relentless decentralisation of tactical formations, the ever-increasing precision and the lethal nature of weapon systems, and the exponential growth and availability of battlespace communications.
The paper suggests that the inherited doctrinal guidance concerning the organisational structures and employment of Australia's infantry battalions is of limited use in information-age conflicts. The Australian Army needs to reassess the role that rigid and inflexible organisational structures play in the tactical employment of infantry, and import those findings into its doctrinal and training regimes.
What is more, the presence of infantry is an essential precondition for most operations across the spectrum of conflict. Without them our deployed forces would be vulnerable to attack, and our attempts to establish and maintain conditions of basic security would be hardly credible. Whether in conventional war, or the range of operations other than war, the infantry remains the most sophisticated and adaptable combat capability.
Technological changes have not done away with the need for combat troops that can engage in close combat. As the Australian Army investigates ways of ‘hardening' its combat forces, a major priority will be to enhance the level of mobility and protection available to the most vulnerable soldiers on the battlefield—the infantry. By examining the evolving character of infantry combat, the paper provides an initial concept for the employment of foot soldiers in a hardened Army. Although the ways in which future infantry might fight are likely to continue to change, the circumstances of contemporary conflict require higherquality infantry than ever before. In order to continue to provide for national security and to maintain the capability to project power, the Australian Defence Force needs to continue to generate sufficient numbers of highly trained infantry who can prosecute and prevail in the close battle.