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.

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The military’s design

The American military is designed for winning on the battlefield, not reconstructing a culturally different nation that lacks either the ability or the will to modernize its society and build Western-style governmental institutions. Unfortunately, as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, the US military is incredibly effective in dismantling the military and political structures of a foreign state, only to see it descend into civil war once official hostilities have ceased.

Ethics in leasdeship

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hree-quarters of the way through a panel discussion of military values and ethics, hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, moderator Alberto Mora, a senior fellow at the center, cut to the bone: If terrorists aren’t following the rules of warfare, why should we?

The response was unified and emphatic at Friday’s session from the panelists, three superintendents of U.S. military academies. The American military, they said, must uphold U.S. values, and this means adherence to the rules of engagement.

“This is the challenge going forward,” said Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter, superintendent of the Naval Academy. Beginning with World War I, after the use of mustard gas and the new “death machine” or machine gun, “the American military drove this idea that there are certain things we just don’t do. They don’t represent the values of who we are as American people.”

Even today, when the U.S. military must engage in combat in “shadow zones” where fighters are not identified by uniforms and “it seems like we’re playing with one hand tied behind our back, against enemies that have an advantage,” the military must keep stressing ethics in its leadership programs, Carter said.

Otherwise, “What’s our purpose? What do we stand for?” said Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, who was a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours and an Air Force presidential aide. “This is one of the challenges of democracy.” Around the world, people look to America to set an example, she said, adding, “They hold us accountable. When we don’t live up to that, it hurts us.”

That was also a point emphasized by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a former chief of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.

“The wars that we have been fighting are conflicts of wars of ideology,” Caslen said. “In this ideological struggle, the actions of the United States are particularly important.” Human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay helped create more terrorists not only by mobilizing extremists but by motivating moderates to be more extreme, Caslen said.

“You can’t drain that swamp. You can’t kill your way out of it. It’s an ideological struggle. And that’s why rules of engagement are as they are,” he said.

The event, “The View from the Military Academies: A Conversation with the Superintendents About Values, Ethics, and the Military Profession,” had its roots in a speech made last year by Harvard President Drew Faust at West Point, where she explored the military notion of “friction”  — that is, when a person is forced to confront a situation beyond his or her ability, and has to stretch and reach. In her welcoming remarks to the panel, Faust noted, “We are all of us in many ways in a moment defined by friction; we are being asked to think beyond our assumptions … And this can be an unsettling time.”

“The American military drove this idea that there are certain things we just don’t do,” said Carter (from left), a sentiment echoed by Johnson. “When we don’t live up to that,” she followed, “it hurts us.” Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

The bulk of the panel discussion focused on the military schools’ emphasis on constructing character. “Building leaders of character at West Point is the most important thing we do,” Caslen said. The three superintendents — all combat veterans who have risen to three-star rank — said such training goes beyond adherence to honor codes to preparing young men and women to be “leaders of consequence.”

As Johnson said, “You can check the squares on the honor code, and this is not sufficient,” which is why, she said, the Naval Academy is a “champion” of education in liberal arts as well as science, technology, engineering, and math.

Johnson related the story of an operator watching a target through satellite technology who pushed his superiors to hold off striking. Only when the target was not near children — days later — did the operator attack. “These are dilemmas that our modern warriors face,” she said. “And they don’t stop watching. They watch the aftermath. So, counter to the past lore of airmen who don’t see what they do, they do now.”

In response to a question posed by Richard A. Cash, a senior lecturer at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, about the effects of eliminating the military draft, Caslen acknowledged that 40 years of an all-volunteer military have widened a troubling gap between those who serve and those who don’t.

“The best way to bridge that divide is to have ethical behavior in the military,” he said.

Carter emphasized that, like doctors, lawyers, and clergy, the military should be seen as a professional organization bound by moral codes, concepts of freedom, and constitutional checks and balances. Leadership training helps military officers to understand what are legal, lawful orders, and to act accordingly.

And for the U.S. military, the chiefs said, everyday American politics are an exterior factor that doesn’t challenge a deeper ethos.

“I’m not worried about the future. These discussions will continue regardless of who is in the White House,” Carter said, adding. “We’re going to be OK.”

“I would just add: Roger that,” Caslen said. “We swore allegiance to the Constitution, not to the commander in chief, not to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but to the Constitution

Rucking rules

Rucking” is the military term for hiking under load. As you can imagine, this is a huge issue for the military, as soldiers must wear body armor and carry weapons, ammo, water, communications equipment, and other gear as they conduct patrols and missions. Rucking performance and injury prevention are hugely important for military operations and personnel.

Movement over ground under load is also key for many mountain sports, from dayhiking to backpacking to big mountain alpinism. In reviewing the research the military has already done on this subject, we discovered five rules that are just as applicable to mountain sports as they are to combat operations. Read on to make sure you’re following these military rucking rules on your next backcountry adventure.

1. One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.

This old backpacking thumb rule holds true, according to a 1984 study from the U.S. Army Research Institute. They tested how much more energy was expended with different footwear (boots and shoes) and concluded that it take 4.7 to 6.4 times as much energy to move at a given pace when weight is carried on the shoe versus on the torso.

In practical terms, this means you could carry half a gallon more of water (a little over 4 pounds) if you buy boots that are a pound lighter, which isn’t hard to do; and that’s a lot of water. Now imagine the energy savings of backpacking in light trail running shoes rather than heavy, leather backpacking boots over the course of 7-day backpacking trip.

2. One pound on your feet equals 5% more energy expended.

Heavier footwear doesn’t just affect you because of its weight. Heavier boots are stiffer and less responsive as well. This reduces the efficiency of your body’s stretch reflex on hitting the ground.

Five percent doesn’t sound like much, though, so how does 5% translate to run times? Well, 5% would slow your mile pace time down by 30 seconds, depending on how long you’re running. But, the faster you attempt to run, the more that 5% will affect your performance.

3. Every 1% of your body weight in your pack makes you six seconds slower per mile.

Carrying weight in your pack isn’t free of cost, though. Each 1% of your body weight carried in your pack makes you 6 seconds slower per mile. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, each 1.5 pounds of weight in your pack slows you by 6 seconds per mile. For a 150-pound hiker, on an extended trip, cutting your pack weight down from 40 to 30 pounds saves you 40 seconds per mile.

4. A 10% grade incline cuts your speed in half.

Grade greatly affects speed. By “grade” we mean how much terrain incline or decline there is. At 10% grade, for example, for every 10 feet you travel forward, you’ll travel 1 foot up. In terms of angles, 10% equals 5.74 degrees. A 5.74 degree angle doesn’t seem like much until you’re humping up it mile after mile. You’ll know how hard it is because you’ll move twice as slowly over it than over flat ground with a given load.

That last little part—with a given load—is important. A 10% grade will cut your speed in half no matter if you’re carrying 45 lbs. or 80 lbs.

5. Going up slows you down twice as much as going down speeds you up.

Don’t believe you’ll make time up on the other side of the hill. You won’t. You’ll only make half the time up.

Why don’t you gain as much by running downhill as you lose running up? Braking forces. As you descend, you have to brake your speed with your quads to keep yourself under control. The steeper the downhill, the more braking. This added load on your muscles further affects your uphill performance if you have repeated bouts of up and down work.