Last 200 meters

War is both a science and an art. Weapons, ammunition, aircraft, ships, electronics, logistics and the set drills to exploit them can be described as a science. However, application of these instruments of war requires planning, decision, orders and execution on varying terrain against a dynamic enemy. All this lies in the field of human endeavour and is mostly an art.
Thus it can be said that war is a science that requires art for its application. Infantry fighting is more of an art than a science. In no other field does human endeavour play a more important role than infantry combat. Infantry combat stretches human endurance to its limit. Thus the human resource development is the raison d’être of all infantry training.
The action most symbolic of infantry fighting is an infantry attack. In this battle of the last 200 metres, the artillery fire is lifted for safety. Due to mines, obstacles and terrain – tanks cannot accompany the troops and even direct fire support from machine guns, tanks and other weapons lifts during close quarter battle. It is only the infantry sections and platoons that decide victory or defeat. Infantry men close in on the objective by fire and movement within buddy pairs.
At the infantry company level to the visual eye it appears as 15 to 20 of small teams of 5 to 6 men each, firing, crawling and repeating the process to close up to the defences. In so doing, they also negotiate minefields and wire obstacles. The pillboxes or bunkers are tackled by lobbing grenades through loopholes or destroyed with rocket launchers and with explosive charges.
More often than not, infantry attacks are launched at night to avoid observed fire. This phase of the battle can continue for five to six hours. The battle metaphorically is fought to the finish with attacker creating the conditions for psychological collapse of the defender to gain and retain possession of tactical ground. Prior to the attack 24 to 48 hours are spent in planning , reconnaissance, and movement from concentration areas to assembly areas. The battle continues even after the objective is captured as reorganisation is carried out to face the inevitable enemy attacks. It is another 24 hours before the situation stabilises. Thus the infantry is moving or fighting over three to four days with limited rest. This battle requires extreme physical prowess, field craft, weapon skills and manoeuvre
The logical question that arises is that how does the infantry train for its role and is the training good enough? My professional assessment in the words of General Wingate is that “it is good, but not good enough” and falls well short of the ideal. Infantry recruits are trained for 19 weeks for basic military training, 15 weeks for advanced military training and 2 weeks for counterinsurgency training. This training is at par with most modern armies. However, the recruits are only trained to be general duty infantry soldiers and are not trained in the plethora of specialist weapons or equipment held by the modern infantry. This is a major drawback. All other armies have a dual trade system wherein apart from basic infantry training each recruit is also trained in one specialist weapon or equipment.
In our case we organise all such training in the infantry battalions. This was prudent when weapons were rudimentary and peace time or operational commitments were few. Now this concept is not pragmatic due to complexity of weapons and equipment, lack of infrastructure, peace time or operational commitments and to some extent attitudinal approach to hard training by mixing it up with welfare. The training establishments of infantry have a limited capacity and only instructors are trained for organising the training in the unit. This problem needs to be redressed. Training at unit level should only focus on refresher training for individuals and collective training at section, platoon, company and unit level.
The last 200 meter infantry battle is fought by platoons and sections commanded by Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and Non Commissioned Officers ( NCOs). Our infantry training establishments due to limited training capacity train only 30 % of JCOs/ NCOs. Rest are supposed to trained in the units. For reasons highlighted above such training is not pragmatic in the present environment such training is below average which affects the operational efficiency of the infantry. The German army began the war with a ratio of one officer to thirty soldiers and towards the the end of the war this ratio fell to one officer for 300 soldiers. Yet the army never lost its cohesion in battle. The reason for this was that all NCOs of the German army were trained at NCO’s academies even during the war. This system is followed by most armies and the units only focus on tactical training.
All tactical training of sections, platoons and companies is and should be organised in unit areas and brigade/division battle schools. Gruelling and realistic ‘Battle runs’ to make the battle of last 200 meters as second nature have to be practiced at least twice a month. Unit areas are small and due to rapid urbanisation and intensive agriculture there are no areas left to organise such training. Units try to find windows after the crops are harvested but the period is inadequate. Shortage of baffle ranges for marksmanship and field firing and manoeuvre ranges compounds the problem. There is an urgent need to create more battle schools with adequate infrastructure for collective training including manoeuvre with fire of sub units and units.
Last but not the least, no amount of welfare and morale will ever compensate for hard training. ‘Battle runs’ have to be the signature of the infantry. There is no point in having one of the largest infantry force in the world if it can not be trained for its role due to limited capacity of training institutions, lack of infrastructure and attitude.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s