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LESSON LEARNED: Use light forces offensively, even in the defense.

"In war the only sure defense is offense, and the efficiency of the offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it."
-- (Patton: War as I Knew It, 1947)

There are several characteristics that distinguish light infantry operations from mechanized infantry operations. Light infantry operations are marked by stealth, a high degree of self-reliance, austerity, tenacity, and resourcefulness. Light operations are aggressive and violent, with less constraints from terrain and weather.

Heavy forces should use light forces for missions that capitalize on their light capabilities. Light infantry is more effective when given an offensively oriented mission. Using the advantages of stealth, surprise, and the ability to go places that heavy forces cannot go, light forces can overcome the advantages of firepower and mobility of a heavy force.

Even in the defense, light forces attached to a heavy brigade can be used offensively by the brigade commander to conduct spoiling attacks, ambushes, and attacks against the flanks of enemy forces in motion. Light forces can also conduct counterattacks as well as infiltration attacks against the enemy main and rear.

By destroying or disrupting lines of communication, command and control nodes, field artillery positions, and logistics support lines of the enemy, a light infantry force can significantly alter the outcome of a larger engagement.

A single light infantry battalion, during a recent maneuver training exercise, was able to effectively disrupt the time schedule of an entire attacking corps by cutting the supply lines of one mechanized division for twelve hours. The attacking corps was not expecting to fight an significant light force in its rear. The corps found it extremely difficult to fix and defeat a force that seemed to materialize from nowhere, attack, and disappear.

LESSON LEARNED: Use light forces in close or restricted terrain to offset the advantages of range and mobility that armored and mechanized forces possess.

"The nature of the ground is the fundamental factor in aiding the army to set up its victory." -- (Mei Yao-Ch'en, 1--2-1060)

Heavy commanders and staffs must carefully consider METT-T and the depth and width of sector assigned a light force.

Against an armored foe the light force must take away the advantages of speed, mobility, firepower, and acquisition. Forces that overcome the advantages of a mobile enemy force win.

Close terrain gives light forces the capability to take away the advantages of armor and to fight them on terms favorable to the light force. Close terrain limits the ability of an armored force to maneuver to positions of advantage. Close terrain affords the light force with the opportunity to concentrate its fires against heavy forces at ranges that eliminate the tactical advantage and protection of armor.

Light infantry must use depth when defending. Depth allows light forces room to maneuver to avoid enemy fires. Maneuver space gives light forces the ability to engage in offensive actions to defeat the enemy.

During a 36 hour engagement, a single company of light infantry, as part of a larger heavy-light force, using the advantages of close restrictive terrain, "destroyed" numerous armored and wheeled vehicles and" killed" a large quantity of OPFOR soldiers with small arms fire and light anti-tank weapons.

The company of light infantry occupied battle positions in rugged, heavily forested areas that offered fields of fire of less than 200 meters. The parent force placed a portion of its heavy force on their flank to cover a likely armored avenue of approach.

To avoid engaging the heavy force on the main avenue of approach, an armored enemy force attempted to bypass through the restrictive terrain unaware that it was occupied by the light part of the force. As the enemy units moved through the area, the light infantry force attacked and destroyed them before they could react.

As enemy soldiers dismounted to protect their vehicles and counterattack the light infantry that stopped them, they were ambushed and "killed" by light infantry in covered and concealed battle positions behind the enemy vehicles. Without the protection of the dismounted infantry, the vehicles were attacked and destroyed with light anti-tank weapons fired into the open hatches and troop doors of the armored personnel carriers and fighting vehicles.

The technique used to attack and destroy the enemy force took away the advantage of protection afforded the enemy mechanized force. The company attacked the exposed crewmen (especially drivers) and soldiers of the enemy force at ranges closer than 100 meters. With the drivers and crews "killed", the tanks and armored vehicles were no longer a threat to the defending heavy-light force.

LESSON LEARNED: Use light forces at night and during periods of reduced visibility to attack enemy forces.

"Darkness is a friend to the skilled infantryman." -- (B.H. Liddel Hart: Thoughts on War, 1944)

Light fighters must be night fighters. All forces, especially mechanized forces, operate at much slower speeds during periods of restricted visibility. The most vulnerable period for a mechanized force is at night, especially in restricted or close terrain where the enhanced optics are of limited use. Mechanized and armored forces use darkness and other periods of reduced visibility to plan, refit and rest.

At the NTC a light battalion as part of a heavy-light force attacked a large OPFOR unit at night as they were preparing to attack a heavy-light brigade task force. The shock and surprise of a pre-emptive attack disrupted their entire OPFOR battle plan. Immediately following the attack by the light force, the heavy portion of the brigade task force conducted a follow on attack on the OPFOR unit completing the destruction of the enemy force.

Frequently, as soldiers focus on planning, refitting, and resting, their attentions are diverted from local security.

A single squad of light infantry at night captured 11 armored and wheeled vehicles during a maneuver exercise after an opposing unit established a lager site next to their battle position. Even with local security, the enemy force did not realize that there was a light infantry unit in their area. The light force waited until the attentions of the OPFOR turned to their concern for rest, resupply, and maintenance, and captured them.

With limited visibility, heavy forces lose the advantage of acquiring and engaging targets at great ranges. Use light forces to exploit periods of darkness or limited visibility to surprise and defeat enemy forces.

LESSON LEARNED: Use METT-T to determine the most operationally significant light infantry organization.

"Nothing is so important in war as an undivided command." -- (Napoleon: Maxims of War, 1831)

Emerging heavy-light experiences show that the light infantry brigade is the most operationally significant light combat force. The light brigade has the capability to plan, sustain, and synchronize the combat power of the light infantry battalion.

Employ light forces in sufficient strength to have an effect on the enemy. The austerity of heavy weapons and anti-armor systems, communications equipment, logistical assets, and vehicles below the battalion level make it impractical to employ a light force in a mid- or high-intensity battlefield with less than a battalion.

In a heavy force almost every vehicle or track has a radio. A light infantry platoon has very limited communications assets. The most powerful radio in a light infantry company is the PRC77. The communications equipment of light forces do not have the range or redundancy to afford a large dispersion of the force.

To maintain communications between light and heavy forces, the planning for and use of RETRANS equipment is essential. The heavy-light force on REFORGER 88 discovered that the heavy headquarters could talk to the light force commander, but it was impossible for the light force to respond because its communications equipment did not have the same range as the radios of the heavy portion of the force.

The light infantry battalion does not possess the logistical support base that a mechanized or armor battalion has. Capable of minimal logistical planning and support, the light battalion relies on the parent light brigade for almost all logistical planning and support.

The light infantry battalion is organized with a minimum number of support personnel, equipment, and vehicles. Placing the burden of conducting logistical planning and support on the light infantry battalion distracts them from their primary combat mission.

Heavy forces fight best as teams, using their armored and mechanized companies as the fighting elements. Light forces fight best as brigades, and use their battalions as the basic fighting elements.

LESSON LEARNED: Light forces enhance ground surveillance, reconnaissance, and counter-reconnaissance capabilities for the heavy force.

"Agitate the enemy and ascertain the pattern of his movement. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant, and where deficient." -- (Sun Tzu: The Art of War, 400-320 B.C.)

Light forces provide an additional surveillance, reconnaissance, and counter-reconnaissance capability to a heavy force. Light forces are less restricted by terrain and weather and can see the battlefield from areas that a heavy cannot operate in. Aggressive combat patrolling and expanded observation of the battlefield by light forces significantly adds to the intelligence gathering capabilities of maneuver forces.

During a past REFORGER exercise, the corps intelligence assets lost contact with a mechanized division of the opposing force for several days. The opposing force was pinpointed by the scouts and patrols of a light infantry battalion attached to a heavy force before the enemy division could be committed against the corps.

On the battlefield of today, if you cannot be seen or detected you can survive. The battlefield signature of a company or battalion of light infantry is very small. The absence of vehicles, large operations centers and combat service support positions make the unit almost invisible to opposing forces. This capability is an advantage for the surveillance, reconnaissance, and counter-reconnaissance efforts of a heavy force. This capability allows the light force to see the battlefield but remain invisible to the enemy.

Light forces can acquire and defeat enemy reconnaissance before they ascertain the disposition or intent of the friendly force. The intelligence provided by a force of light infantry provides the maneuver commander early warning and time to act.

By remaining unseen on the battlefield, the light infantry scouts, forward observers, and infantry platoons can provide a detailed picture of the battlefield.

A light infantry force, through expertise in combat patrolling and counterreconaissance, can also prevent the opposing force from obtaining a clear picture of what they face. The capability of light forces to deny the enemy the opportunity to know what they are facing is an important asset to a commander. The fear of the unknown prevents a force from attacking even though it may actually possess superior strength and fire power.

A heavy force commander used a single light infantry battalion to deceive an OPFOR division during an exercise OCONUS. The battalion caused an OPFOR mechanized division to move its main effort 12 miles from their intended axis of approach when it could not identify what kind of force it was facing. The enemy division intelligence assets reported that they faced an airborne division or possibly a heavy brigade equipped with Bradleys.

The OPFOR division and corps were deceived by the light force because of their inability to locate and identify the size and composition of the friendly light force.

As pieces of the intelligence picture were assembled, they provided conflicting images, forcing the opposing force to provide a worse case scenario to the commander.

Light forces add another dimension to the battlefield and can generate confusion to the enemy intelligence gathering process. Heavy force use of light forces can significantly hinder the ability of the opposing force to identify friendly units and at the same time provide the maneuver commander with a sharp and clear picture of the enemy disposition and intent.

Table of Contents
LESSONS LEARNED: Heavy-Light Operations
LESSONS LEARNED: Employment Considerations of the Light Force

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias