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Milnet Decision Game 1: The Defence

Infanteer

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In light of the great discussion that unfolded on the forums here, the first decision game will focus on a land-centric defensive problem.  This problem represents a real historical battle - bonus points if anyone identifies the battle when they submit the response.

This problem looks at the defence, and how forces can be best arranged and employed in space and time to achieve tactical success on the modern battlefield.  Download the document DefenceProblem1 and come up with a way of defending your sector.  Don't get caught up in issues such as terrain features or enemy formations.

This problem will be open until 29 May 2018, after which the responses will be judged and then discussed here.  Email responses to milnetDG@milnet.ca.

Any questions can be posted to this thread or emailed to the milnetDG address. 
 

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Mike Bobbitt

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Excellent work, thanks Infanteer. I will throw in at least an Army.ca bumper sticker for top answer. If I can dig up something better to throw in before closing, I will add it to the pot.
 

RCPalmer

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Infanteer said:
In light of the great discussion that unfolded on the forums here, the first decision game will focus on a land-centric defensive problem.  This problem represents a real historical battle - bonus points if anyone identifies the battle when they submit the response.

This problem looks at the defence, and how forces can be best arranged and employed in space and time to achieve tactical success on the modern battlefield.  Download the document DefenceProblem1 and come up with a way of defending your sector.  Don't get caught up in issues such as terrain features or enemy formations.

This problem will be open until 29 May 2018, after which the responses will be judged and then discussed here.  Email responses to milnetDG@milnet.ca.

Any questions can be posted to this thread or emailed to the milnetDG address.

Hi Infanteer,

This sounds great.  I have a couple of questions:

1.  I see you went to some detail about the Artillery and Air Support, but did not reference engineers.  Were you visualizing any kind of engineer support, considering both units and resources?  If so, would it be vehicle-mobile like the guns?

2.  Can any assumptions be drawn about the higher friendly plans for the effects desired between the international border and the front of our Div sector?  For example, are we to assume that the OPFOR will arrive in our sector intact and out of contact, less any air or artillery interdiction we may plan? 

3.  With regards to the overall submission, do you plan to post every submission you receive after you have judged it, or just the winning/notable entries? 
 

Infanteer

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RCPalmer said:
1.  I see you went to some detail about the Artillery and Air Support, but did not reference engineers.  Were you visualizing any kind of engineer support, considering both units and resources?  If so, would it be vehicle-mobile like the guns?

Assume that most moderate engineering needs (which we'll define as concrete emplacements, minefields, etc) can be achieved due to the time available and the fact that this is your national border with a threat across from it.

2.  Can any assumptions be drawn about the higher friendly plans for the effects desired between the international border and the front of our Div sector?  For example, are we to assume that the OPFOR will arrive in our sector intact and out of contact, less any air or artillery interdiction we may plan?

Yes.  Assume that, if there is any big fighting, it is away from your sector and will probably not impact how the battle unfolds in the time frame the problem established.

3.  With regards to the overall submission, do you plan to post every submission you receive after you have judged it, or just the winning/notable entries?

Not sure - I'll see how many submissions we get and what people who submit the responses feel like doing with their work.  This is the first go around.
 

Blackadder1916

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The problem description very specifically differentiates own forces as being "foot mobile infantry" and the OPFOR as "motorized" with integral tank assets, however, can we make any assumptions on whether there are any own divisional assets such as cavalry (horse, MC, bike or vehicle mounted) that might be used for recce, screening, etc?
 

Infanteer

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Blackadder1916 said:
The problem description very specifically differentiates own forces as being "foot mobile infantry" and the OPFOR as "motorized" with integral tank assets, however, can we make any assumptions on whether there are any own divisional assets such as cavalry (horse, MC, bike or vehicle mounted) that might be used for recce, screening, etc?

No.  You have a straight leg force.  The motorized elements of your Army are elsewhere.
 

Infanteer

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One submission has been received.  There is still a few weeks if you wish to contribute a solution.
 

Infanteer

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Still looking for submissions as we near the end of the month.  Anyone figured out what battle this problem represents?
 

Infanteer

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Last call for submissions.  I encourage anyone to put one in - remember, this can be in plain English (or French).  It's a problem to try and figure out, not a military writing exam, so don't worry about having some fancy, doctrinal response.
 

Colin Parkinson

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Got 15 minutes to do this.

The main issue is that the enemy is going to hit in a concentrated assault with combined artillery, air and tank assault, overwhelming local defenses. With 17km frontage, I can only bring 1/3rd of my guns to bear to any area. The main hope is to allow a penetration into a prepared kill zone.
The months ahead must be used wisely. My first task is to place a screen on the border and air patrols. No non-essential civilians in the area, and road blocks to ensure that the enemy cannot gather good intelligence on the defense. Our intelligence reports suggest that the enemy has worked improving their air force and tank units, but their infantry is still mostly foot, horse and rail bound. Their tanks are mostly smaller, but equipped with radios, their air force has a mix of paratroopers, fighters, bombers and dive bombers.
We have very limited AA or fighter coverage. Therefore all defenses and units will depend heavily on camouflage and concealment for protection. I am going to assume that portions of the front have some natural obstacles like canals, river and swamps. However larger chunks will be open and difficult to defend.
Another consideration is what are the objectives the enemy is likely to aim for? Is there a strategic hub, terrain feature behind our front? I will assume 1-2 major routes from the border and perhaps 10 smaller ones. First task is to remove large sections of the smaller routes, approx. .5km to1km from the border, so they still appear viable by observation from the enemy border. The routes will be cut  by removing bridges, culverts and dropping trees. The main routes will be more difficult, is the border closed? If so, then things are easier, if not, traffic must be constrained to limit intelligence gathering.
So I have a light border screen using elevated posts and patrols of light infantry. These will be based about 1km from the border to protect them from being overrun. Their job is to stop intelligence gathering. Conduct intelligence gathering from our side on enemy preparations.
2nd problem is that it’s likely my sector encompasses at least 1 town/village, am I bound to defend it? Set up an evacuation plan for civilians within 10 km of the border, encourage the civilian leaders to move as many people as possible away. Some will be needed to tend animals and fields. Assume the town sits on one of the major routes from the border. Likely I will be bound to defend it and it will take at least 1 company. Defenses will include roadblocks, prepared demolition points and concealed bunkers. Some obvious bunkers will be built on the outskirts of town, but not normally occupied. These will be likely targets of any preparatory air assaults.
I would build my first defensive line approx. 2-3km from the border, this will make target gathering harder for the enemy and give time for troops to prepare from the alarm. Interlocking bunkers concealed in forests with dummy bunkers built to show up on air photo’s. I am not sure what ATG resources I have. Likely we will have to dedicate some artillery to direct fire to act as a AT screen. Anti-tank obstacle, ditches will be constructed, in fron of the bunker line, making as much use of natural obstacles, priority will be the open areas. Artillery units will have to be emplaced and registered onto these obstacles. Most of my AA resources will be dedicated to protecting the artillery and my reserves.
A second fallback line will be constructed 1-2km behind the first line, this line will be the 2nd priority for work, with defense constructed in the most likely attack routes   
 

b00161400

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I've just given this to my jr officers to chew on over the next week.  Should be interesting to see what they come up with.

Will we be seeing the results soon?
 

Infanteer

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Yes.  I've collated the responses and am working on a summary that I hope to have up in the next week.  Just in the middle of some summer admin.

For the anyone curious, the scenario above is the French 55th Infantry Division's position at Sedan along the Meuse River in 1940.  The frontages represent what the division was tasked to cover and the adversary's force is Guderian's XIX Panzer Korps (1, 2, and 10 Pzr Div). 
 

Infanteer

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Ok, I found some time to sit down, go over the responses and put something out.  Thanks to everyone who contributed - the responses showed some original thought and different approaches to tackling the problem.  When I measured the responses I received against the pre-determined evaluation criteria, Haligonian's was judged to be the top response.  Nice work.

Evaluation criteria was based on four factors concerned with the problem that I jotted down prior to issuing the problem:

1.  How does the solution address the breadth of frontage that is clearly a lot for a single, foot-mobile infantry division to cover?

2.  How does the solution utilize depth to address the overmatch in force ratio for the enemy?

3.  What is the solution's bid for success and what are the strengths and vulnerabilities of that bid?

4.  How is airpower utilized?  Is it flexible and how is it linked to the defensive plan?

Some observations from the responses:

1.  Responses were good in identifying the operational problem: how to address the enemy's superior numbers and mobility coming over a wide defensive frontage.

2.  The problem of a 17km frontage is solved through using the defence in depth.  The bid for success should be the counterattack, as hitting the enemy is the only way to strip him of his advantage in mobility and numbers.  The problem gave leeway to determine what this depth would be.  A key, in my view, is to figure out the sweet-spot in depth that allows you to engage the enemy and yet provide safe areas (out of enemy fire) for counter-attack forces to assemble and launch.  My estimate, based on range of friendly and enemy artillery and mobility of forces, is about 10km.  Going significantly greater then that means moving artillery or fighting without massed coverage, significantly lesser than that means counter-attack forces are liable to disruption from enemy indirect fires.

3.  Breaking a defence in depth up into separate battle areas is part of the solution.  All the responses took different cracks at this, and did well in identifying the need to slow, confuse, and attrit the enemy before hitting a main line of resistance.

4.  Arrangement of forces is important, for in battle, it can become a source of friction.  A big decision is to array forces in column (width, with each subordinate owning a piece of the 17km frontage back through the battle areas) or to array in echelon (depth, with each subordinate owing a 17km wide zone with another formation in depth).  One of the more telling operational studies commented that arraying in echelon created problems in a fluid battle where depth was being surrendered as the battle had to be handed off from one formation to another as forces moved through each other.  The argument was made that with each subordinate controlling a narrow, but deep, strip of the frontage, they could manage the battle throughout its depth and take on reinforcements to counterattack as they arrived.  By having subordinate brigades conduct internal handovers instead of managing brigade handovers in the Divisions AO, the commander can reduce friction and focus on where to counter-attack with his or her reserve.

5.  As mentioned, the bid for success in this should be the counter-attack, which responses generally indicated as the only way to defeat the enemy's advantages.  The ratio of defending to counter-attack forces is therefore of key concern to the division commander.  In an earlier thread, I gave an example of Mustafa Kemel's division at Gallipoli, where he maintained five of his nine battalions for counter-attack.  I think 50% of the Division is a good aiming point to start with in this scenario, meaning that of the four brigades, you'd want one in depth, with a battalion from each of the other three to the rear of the main defensive zone.  If you have more than 50% forward, it's liable to get fixed or beaten up by the enemies larger forces (and thus unavailable for counterattack).

6.  Airpower is important.  A big decision is whether to focus your sorties on what we now call Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI) or Close Air Support (CAS) - one is hitting the enemy forward of friendly troops while the other is hitting the enemy near, and in coordination with, friendly troops.  I'd venture that in this scenario, spreading the sorties is good, with emphasis being closer on either side to H-Hour, as the sorties (whether they be BAI or CAS) will help the counter-attack.  Too soon, and the effect of the air strikes might lose its value by the time the land operation is ready to roll; too late, and the sorties might not be enough to help if the enemy gets momentum through your depth.

Again, great responses from those who submitted and thanks for taking the time to contribute.

As I mentioned, this scenario was taken directly from the defence of the Meuse River crossing by the French 55th Infantry Division in May of 1940.  I've attached a poorly scanned diagram for Frieser's excellent The Blitzkrieg Legend showing the "crazy quilt" layout of the defense.  At page 145 of his study, he gives a pretty thorough breakdown of the key mistakes made by the defender at this battle.  During the phony war, the French Division focused too much on the river, spent half its time focusing on concrete defenses, and didn't come up with a way to deal with enemy penetrations.  Minimal depth and a lack of coordination with the French Air Force doomed the division and Guderian's XIX PzrKorps blew through it in a day (that is a great case study in the breakthrough battle, but that's another decision game....).  So, all of you rated better than a 20th century 2nd Line French Infantry Division Commander!

I selected this for the first decision game as a follow-on from some good discussion on another thread from earlier in the year.  I still maintain my long-held opinion that the Canadian Army is, as an institution, weak at the defence.  Our doctrine is not very sophisticated, and our officer education and training really lacks in developing a good understanding of depth, width, time, space, force ratios, and the critical role of the counter-attack in the modern defence in depth.  Part of this is that, historically, we haven't had to defend much - we've been advancing and beating the Germans.  I was happy to see that the responses generally acknowledged that the defence at higher echelons in more than just picking a piece of ground, selecting a killzone, and digging in.

There are some very good books out there that look at the concept of the defence in depth, which was basically developed by the Germans in early 1915.  I researched this, and contemporary reports from the Russo-Japanese war and the Balkan wars prior to WWI showed defences were fairly linear - the Germans added depth in 1915 as French and British guns were starting to take their toll on more traditional defensive layouts.  If anyone is interested in some good reads, two key books are Lossberg's Memoirs (he basically developed the modern defence) and Wynne's 1930's study If Germany Attacks.  A more popular (although lacking in some finer details) but easily readible piece is Lupfer's The Dynamic's of Doctrine, which covers the evolution of the elastic defence (a popular name for a type of defence in depth).  I'd argue that nothing today, including PGMs or UAVs, has obviated the status of the defence in depth as the premier method of defense for a conventional force against a mechanized opponent.

So, discussion is the desired follow-through for the decision games here at Milnet.ca - I offer the follow questions to the readers.  You are a brigade commander in the Baltics or Korea.  How have things changed today?  What kind of frontages can you expect to manage?  How does rocket artillery, with extended range, affect your defence in depth?  As a modern day Brigade or Division commander, how to you array your forces and how much do you reserve for the counter-attack?
 

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Mike Bobbitt

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Well done Haligonian! If you PM me your address I'll mail you an Army.ca (or Navy.ca if you go that way) bumper sticker.

And thanks Infanteer for putting together the Decision Game, it's a valuable exercise!
 

Colin Parkinson

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Well it helps we have hindsight, but I think your reserves will be badly mauled by the enemies airpower, they most likely be on foot and without radios, comms will be dependent on the telephone exchanges and dispatch riders, attempts to move troops in daylight without adequate AA or air covers will likely be fraught with hazards. 
 

Infanteer

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In this scenario, and in the actual case study, there was the potential for rough air parity or allied air superiority, but doctrine enabled the Germans to concentrate and achieve local air superiority.  Even with the enemy having total air supremacy, it is possible to move reserves - the Chinese moved 300,000 soldiers into North Korea and up to the UN lines in 1950 with barely any interference from overwhelming US airpower.
 

b00161400

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This was great.  It worked out very well for me that I just happened to be reading Lossberg's memoir and If Germany Attacks when we started this.  Those books greatly shaped my response.

I've got a few ideas on your follow on questions that I'll drop here shortly.  I'm starting to put some ideas together for a Defence Lessons Learned from Op REASSURANCE article and another regarding some required doctrinal changes and changes to general practice.
 

RCPalmer

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Infanteer – thanks again for putting this together.  I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise.

I don’t consider any of the responses below to be at all conclusive, but I am hopeful that some discussion can be generated. 

You are a brigade commander in the Baltics or Korea. 
How have things changed today? 
What kind of frontages can you expect to manage?

Improved ISTAR capabilities, longer direct (tank and ATGM) and indirect weapons range capabilities, and improved communications capabilities will increase the frontages a brigade can cover, but this will be terrain dependent.  In mixed terrain for example, I would consider it possible (though not optimal) for a brigade to cover a 20km frontage in the defence.  However, in more complex terrain, the ground will either help the defender by canalizing the enemy into specific avenues of approach, or hinder them by creating numerous infiltration routes that cannot be effectively screened.  A frontage of this size may create some risk in terms of mutual support between the maneuver battalions within the brigade, and it stretches the capabilities of the tube artillery.  However, the broader question here is “How much of a frontage would you be expected to manage as a brigade commander?” Ultimately, western armies today are much smaller and more expensive on a per unit basis than they were in 1940, so they will be expected to do more with less.  At some point, our tactics will likely have to adapt to this reality. 

How does rocket artillery, with extended range, affect your defence in depth?
The presence of enemy rocket artillery (coupled with the possibility of a UAV around every corner) makes it much more difficult to employ follow-on forces, countermoves, and reserves, both in terms of their deployment and their massing for any action.  In most cases, it will not be possible or desirable to increase the depth of my defence to the point that my assembly areas for my reserve or follow forces are out of the range of enemy rocket artillery.  It may force me to employ a more dispersed, localized approach for any planned countermoves.  Additionally, I may elect to adopt a more static model for my defence in depth, relying more heavily on my obstacle plan, and the behavior of my lead elements to shape the enemy into the desired kill zones for my depth elements.  Lastly, the presence of rocket artillery makes both the operational and tactical level counter-battery, and counter surveillance battles much more important.

As a modern-day Brigade or Division commander, how to you array your forces and how much do you reserve for the counter-attack?
I don’t think that current operating environment fundamentally changes the requirement defence in depth when faced with a mechanized opponent.  However, in terms of reserves and countermoves, I would be looking for ways of massing effects without necessarily massing my forces.  Infanteer’s comment in Point 4 above regarding the arrangement subordinate elements with narrow, deep AOs holds some appeal here. This model would lend itself to a focus on providing those subordinates the capability to conduct their own local countermoves, but this of course reduces your flexibility to respond to a concentrated attack on a narrow portion of your frontage. 

One more question for Infanteer - is it your intent to post any of the submitted solutions?  I think that may help to facilitate some discussion.  Additionally, I think some sample solutions might help some members less familiar with these types of exercises frame their own responses. 
 
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