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Sustainment Is the Division’s Hardest Responsibility

Jack Watling
RUSI Defence Systems, 13 January 2021
Martial Power Programme, Military Sciences, Land Forces
The proliferation of ISR and precision fires make resupply of combat brigades an increasingly complex and dangerous task for which legacy tactics are ill suited and in need of revision.

The brigade is the smallest tactical formation that is able to bring to bear the full gamut of military specialisms in pursuit of a defined objective. The division commands multiple brigades and is therefore able to pursue multiple objectives. By balancing lines of effort and using reserves to disrupt enemy counterattacks, the division has been a pivotal echelon in the Western way of war.

Under AirLand Battle, success was achieved by manoeuvring to defeat the second echelon (that is, the division): penetrating the enemy’s frontlines and striking the command and control, logistics and ISR capabilities that directed combat brigades. This then allowed the defeat of those brigades in detail. Today, the combination of high-fidelity standoff ISR and widely available precision fires, together with the extended range of conventional artillery, makes this core tenet of AirLand Battle obsolete. Armies no longer need to manoeuvre to strike the second echelon; they can reach it with fire from their starting positions. Indeed, the full weight of the enemy’s sensors and fires now falls squarely on to the divisional support area.

This has far-reaching implications. If the force cannot protect the logistics, maintenance, medical, ISR, fires, engineering, and command and control infrastructure at the divisional echelon then it will struggle to sustain brigades in contact. These brigades will then find that they have very limited endurance. Even well-motivated troops in defensible positions will be overwhelmed if they suffer attrition to the rear, as recently demonstrated in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Dr Jack Watling
Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Dr Jack Watling is Research Fellow for Land Warfare. Jack has recently conducted studies of deterrence against Russia, force... read more

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