Jump to content
Sturgeon's House
Sign in to follow this  
Toxn

Professional vs citizen soldiers

Recommended Posts

One of the interesting things about good books is that often their marginalia are worth a seperate look all on their own. I was reminded of this when reading Scheidel's "The Great Leveller"; which, in addition to being deeply depressing, also had a few interesting tidbits here and there on other matters.

 

One that caught my eye was the point that armies were historically rather elite institutions. Less than 1% of the population would be on campaign in all but the most dire of circumstances, and the sort of men who made good soldiers in ancient times were by definition the young, strong and those well-resourced enough to afford at least a portion of their own kit. Our intuitions about ancient warfare are accordingly skewed by the comparitively recent emergence of citizen armies which peaked in the 20th century.

 

Scheidel's other point here was that, in armies as in so many things, we're reverting to historical norms. This means that the slow proffessionalization of armed forces around the world is not actually a contingent or abnormal thing driven by external (read: polical) considerations - much as the return-to-conscription camp would like to believe otherwise. Instead it is simply a recognition that a modern, well-trained soldier wielding expensive and technologically sophisticated equipment, is an order of magnitude more effective than a conscript.

 

Remarkably, there is actually some evidence from my country's own military history for just such a hypothesis. Here I'm referring to the battle of Kibati in 2013, where ~230 SANDF special forces and paratroopers faced off against ~5000 M23 irregulars. Thanks to our own disorganisation and the decay of our armed forces, there was not as much lopsidedness in terms of equipment as is usually the case. With more-or-less equal levels of equipment and no outside support (including heavy armour or air support), the SANDF forces killed 700 for the loss of 15. Even accounting for the inherent issue of attacking forces taking higher casualties, this still represents something like a 15:1 level of effectiveness per man. In the aftermath of the battle, the SANDF got its shit together and sent in a properly-equipped battalion with air support. Then they inflicted ~500 casualties for no loss.

 

This seems to me like a pretty good natural experiment in how the tides have turned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't read any grand historical summaries, but surely the relative popularity of citizen vs. professional soldiers has waxed and waned?  I was under the impression that for most of the Classical period, Greek hoplites were basically citizen militias barring exceptional state-funded formations like the Theban sacred band... or those slave-beating assholes with the Lambdas on their shields.

 

Roman legions were professionals, but wasn't this rather exceptional for the period?  Most of the Gallic forces they whomped on, for instance, were basically tribal militias with small cadres of elites/chieftains.  This is probably a large amount of why the Romans were able to whomp on them so thoroughly, of course.

 

But then again, weren't the predominant forces of the entire migration period almost entirely not professional soldiers?  Certainly the soldiers of the (embattled) sedentary empires would have been largely professionals, but I can't imagine the Goths, Alans or Huns really having professional soldiers.  It's not clear to me how a nomadic and illiterate tribal confederation could really have the level of organization to have professions, per se.  Oh, and ditto the Mongols.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Collimatrix said:

I haven't read any grand historical summaries, but surely the relative popularity of citizen vs. professional soldiers has waxed and waned?  I was under the impression that for most of the Classical period, Greek hoplites were basically citizen militias barring exceptional state-funded formations like the Theban sacred band... or those slave-beating assholes with the Lambdas on their shields.

Indeed they have.

However, the examples usually point towards more rather than less elite troops. Hoplites, for instance, were ordered by rank with the richest citizens in front as they brought the best equipment to the field.

 

7 minutes ago, Collimatrix said:

Roman legions were professionals, but wasn't this rather exceptional for the period?  Most of the Gallic forces they whomped on, for instance, were basically tribal militias with small cadres of elites/chieftains.  This is probably a large amount of why the Romans were able to whomp on them so thoroughly, of course.

Oh yes. Also, the most effective of the Gallic forces were again the ones with good equipment and time to train with it - aka the richer folk.

 

7 minutes ago, Collimatrix said:

But then again, weren't the predominant forces of the entire migration period almost entirely not professional soldiers?  Certainly the soldiers of the (embattled) sedentary empires would have been largely professionals, but I can't imagine the Goths, Alans or Huns really having professional soldiers.  It's not clear to me how a nomadic and illiterate tribal confederation could really have the level of organization to have professions, per se.  Oh, and ditto the Mongols.

The mongols are argued to be a special case, as the sheer weirdness of their society meant that everyone was a horse-owning hunter-badass. Compare, for instance, the roman equites and Byzantine Kataphraktoi, who were the solidly drawn from the upper stratum and constituted a minority of their respective armies. Then again, the image of the Mongols as being entirely cavalry beyond the first few years of Ghengis Khan's rule is also false so...

 

In terms of the barbarians: remember that our popular understanding of the Goths, huns etc as unwashed hordes of savages is very much a distortion produced by the vanquished effectively writing the histories. Attila grew up as a Roman, and there is no reason to think that he or the army he put together looked very much different from the late-Roman armies they fought.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should put up a disclaimer here, btw: the argument I'm making is framed in terms of effectiveness.

 

Elite troops will always be more effective than conscrips (who are more effective than irregulars), but I have reason to believe that the balance has changed over time and is currently very much in favour of the well-trained, well-equipped folk over the rest.

 

This doesn't mean that a mass army can't win wars, though. If my hypothetical SANDF supersoldier army ends up being 1% of the population but ends up fighting a citizen army from a similarly-sized country that makes up 20% of the population, my supersoldiers have to be 20 times better than their peasant soldiers to win. The thing is, from my above analysis we're almost there already and I don't see the scales turning back in the near future.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would suspect that in a war that is mainly light infantry vs. light infantry, the professional army would run up the score pretty well against lesser forces.  But in a war with more artillery, mines, air strikes, and other means of killing people more democratically, their advantage would be blunted since people are getting exploded left and right somewhat irrespective of skill level.

 

But it's hard to imagine a situation beyond two nation states going head-on in a years-long war of attrition where you would have people operating artillery who don't qualify as elite, professional soldiers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I think heavy equipment (tanks, artillery, aircraft) makes the disparity worse not better.

 

An amateur tank, artillery crew or pilot gets eaten by the pros. The Korean war saw 3:1 aircraft kill ratios with similar equipment and a lower difference in pilot skill than you would expect to see today. And most of the air-to-air tech developed since has disproportionately favoured the higher-skilled pilots. Gulf war tank battles (which might be anomalous, but still) saw hundred-to-one kill rates.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Obviously quality beats quantity, until to a point where quantity itself becomes quality.

If you are for example in a intervention scenario, like for example A-stan, then conscripts just won´t cut it, they fight a war which resolves mainly around that the enemy hit and runs you with light weapons, and you really can counter them with those weapons yourself.
Ofcourse Air support, arty and all that jazz is also at your disposal but you have the problem that these ressources are scattered around the country and also many fights (ambushes) tend to not last all that long.
So skill and superior equipment is paramount.


But where conscripts armies really shine is when you go and anger someone similar in strenght to your own, or even defend yourself from alot mightier nations.
There you will need alot of men, and they will likely die alot faster thanks to the quantity of enemie guns themselves as @Collimatrix already pointed out.
Meaning that your chances of survival with a small provessional army is very slim.


The best thing probably is a good mix, in Austria for example we have alot of conscripts for mundane tasks like pionier work and logistics aswell as for "line infantry" duties, though there is also one battallion (that is alot for us) that is 100% professional,that are capeable of para dropping, quick and quick response tasks, so they are more like an "elite" unite. 
Then there are also tasks which the conscripts can do, but that will not really hinder the performance much of more skilled units, like being a loader in the arty battallion or in a tank.
Stuff like that IMO is pretty good since space gets freed up, for jobs where you really need professionals in.

 

So a good mix is, if you can´t afford, either budget or strategicly wise a proffessional army, the best thing. Also it tends to piss of hippies, and prevent men from becoming such good for nothing "humans", which is always a good thing!
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure the analogy of citizen vs. peasant soldiers and modern volunteer vs. conscript armies really holds up in an absolute sense. Armies historically were often "come as you are", whereas most armies today mold you into whatever they want you to be through training and issuance of equipment. This has little to nothing to do with how those armies are levied, for example draftees in American or British armies during the World Wars could often be very well-trained and were no differently equipped than their volunteer counterparts (indeed, the units weren't even separated along these lines). Drafts are typically associated with drops in soldier quality, sure, but that's because drafts are associated with big fucking wars where you need lots of people. The drops in quality during Vietnam, for example, affected both volunteers and draftees (as, again, the units weren't divided along those lines).

 

The point that higher quality infantry can be disproportionately effective is a very good one, however, and something I've tried to emphasize. Going too far in this respect can run afoul of Kipling's "Cheaper Man" problem, but it's still better to have better infantry, especially since in the case of the USA we can absolutely afford both quality and quantity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe a good example would be the British during WWI. They had a small, highly skilled and professional army that was very effective, until most of the highly trained soldiers died of attrition and was replaced by conscription in the meat grinder. 

 

In attrition warfare, a highly skilled and equipped army would fail, because if they run out of steam, they would be stuck fighting a war of attrition, exhausting their resources quicker than their enemy.  On large fronts, or areas requiring large amounts of troops to cover the front line, a smaller force would be surrounded and destroyed.  The Germans during WWII might make a example here, as they pretty much lost the war once they ran out of steam, and was stretched thin by the large front line. 

 

I remember something from a American study from WWII, were they found that a soldiers effectiveness actually peaked with experience, and then dropped to the same point as a newly trained solider or even below.  Meaning that eventually a elite army would tire out its soldiers, losing some of its effectiveness. 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Xoon said:

I believe a good example would be the British during WWI. They had a small, highly skilled and professional army that was very effective, until most of the highly trained soldiers died of attrition and was replaced by conscription in the meat grinder. 

 

In attrition warfare, a highly skilled and equipped army would fail, because if they run out of steam, they would be stuck fighting a war of attrition, exhausting their resources quicker than their enemy.  On large fronts, or areas requiring large amounts of troops to cover the front line, a smaller force would be surrounded and destroyed.  The Germans during WWII might make a example here, as they pretty much lost the war once they ran out of steam, and was stretched thin by the large front line. 

 

I remember something from a American study from WWII, were they found that a soldiers effectiveness actually peaked with experience, and then dropped to the same point as a newly trained solider or even below.  Meaning that eventually a elite army would tire out its soldiers, losing some of its effectiveness. 

 

 

A good point, and part of the reason why I think decades-long insurgent campaigns tend to work so well against better armed and trained opponents.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Sturgeon said:

I'm not sure the analogy of citizen vs. peasant soldiers and modern volunteer vs. conscript armies really holds up in an absolute sense. Armies historically were often "come as you are", whereas most armies today mold you into whatever they want you to be through training and issuance of equipment. This has little to nothing to do with how those armies are levied, for example draftees in American or British armies during the World Wars could often be very well-trained and were no differently equipped than their volunteer counterparts (indeed, the units weren't even separated along these lines). Drafts are typically associated with drops in soldier quality, sure, but that's because drafts are associated with big fucking wars where you need lots of people. The drops in quality during Vietnam, for example, affected both volunteers and draftees (as, again, the units weren't divided along those lines).

 

The point that higher quality infantry can be disproportionately effective is a very good one, however, and something I've tried to emphasize. Going too far in this respect can run afoul of Kipling's "Cheaper Man" problem, but it's still better to have better infantry, especially since in the case of the USA we can absolutely afford both quality and quantity.

Agreed, and an analogy is just that.

 

I'm also trying hard not to push too far into the other direction, because obviously warfare is about more than individual battles and K/D ratios. I just find it interesting how far my intuitions concerning troop quality seem to be out of sync with the available data.

 

Put simply: my underlying assumption has always been that troop effectiveness improves moreor-less linearly with quality, whereas I now think the current state of affairs is more like an exponential (or sigmoidal) curve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Toxn said:

A good point, and part of the reason why I think decades-long insurgent campaigns tend to work so well against better armed and trained opponents.

 

Yes and no. I think its more nuanced than that. Take Vietnam for example where your typical infantryman only had to serve just a 1 year tour in theater. Just when your average infantryman reached peak effectiveness, he gets rotated out. Compare that to insurgencies like Iraq and Afghanistan where a good portion of your force has multi-tour experience and combined with stupidly low casualty rates made insurgent forces completely ineffective Afghanistan. All they can do is run and hide as soon as the americans show up then come out again and try to exert some influence on the local gov't. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 minutes ago, Vicious_CB said:

 

Yes and no. I think its more nuanced than that. Take Vietnam for example where your typical infantryman only had to serve just a 1 year tour in theater. Just when your average infantryman reached peak effectiveness, he gets rotated out. Compare that to insurgencies like Iraq and Afghanistan where a good portion of your force has multi-tour experience and combined with stupidly low casualty rates made insurgent forces completely ineffective Afghanistan. All they can do is run and hide as soon as the americans show up then come out again and try to exert some influence on the local gov't. 

I agree that nuance is important here. In light of that, it's interesting that in both cases the insurgents won the war while taking disproportionate (in the Afghan case, monumentally disproportionate) casualties.

 

This definitely underlines the fact that my analogy above is very much a limited one, and only tells you something about bare tactical effectiveness rather than operational, strategic and geopolitic issues.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somewhat related to the topic at hand. The good idea fairy ret Maj. Gen. Robert Scales is at it again. 

 

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/02/14/retired-general-train-pay-army-and-marine-infantry-elite-force.html

 

Retired General: Train, Pay Army and Marine Infantry as an Elite Force

In an interview with Military.com, retired Army Major General Robert Scales, a combat veteran who received the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, suggested that the task force is aiming quite high in its quest for improved combat efficiency. In fact, Major General Scales envisions turning all infantrymen into Rangers.

“Infantry is not a branch – 0311s, 11Bs (respectively the infantry military occupational specialities [MOS] for the Marines Corps and Army) – it’s not that. It’s a function. It’s those people on the ground who have line of sight of the enemy and kill them face to face,” said Major General Scales. “Secretary Mattis said from the very beginning…the only way this will work is if we treat close combat as an excepted function. If we build that functionality into the task force, it will work. If we fail to do it, if we fall back and treat the infantry as just another branch, it won’t work.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry I don't have anything of value to add, but I'd like to point out the IDF is also in some way looking at turning into a professional force. Unfortunately, the debate is too limited in scope.

 

2 points, however, that will have to be part of that debate, are the maintenance of large formations, and technological advancements.

 

The IDF wants at least 10 BCTs of the Gideon type, and 3 BCTs of the Yeshuron type, plus an unknown amount of Yiftach brigades (not BCTs likely) that will have worse equipment and do lower priority missions, as a form of backup as either reserves or for guard duties.

 

That requires a serious amount of manpower on the field alone. Add to that a twice larger manpower base for support duties (logistics, human resources, and anyone who doesnt see combat). 

 

There are, however, the advancements that could make manpower reductions substantial in all these areas, AND necessitate a professional army.

 

In the field, you got AFVs that get a reduction in manpower by about a half. Artillery that can now use only a third or a quarter of the manpower they used to.

Ships will become unmanned in at least some roles, primarily in ASW, offshore patrol, and more roles soon enough.

 

Infantry will not be reduced in any substantial matter, but it does not need to be.

 

Support units will be reduced due to improvements in AI, Big Data, and UI.

 

Many technologically heavy services will be handled by companies, rather than continuously newly trained conscripts. This includes cyber, data management, and maintenance of complex systems such as avionics.

 

A balance is yet to be determined by any special committee or research, in the context of the IDF's structure.

 

The big problem is reservists. Israel relies heavily on its reserves for any war. In the current state, you can get an average man fully equipped, with his unit, and mobilized, in less than 24 hours. Backing him are anything from a few days of training, to a month worth of training, on an annual basis after his 3 year service.

 

Without some form of conscription, the IDF loses a significant portion of its reservists.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
47 minutes ago, Mighty_Zuk said:

The big problem is reservists. Israel relies heavily on its reserves for any war. In the current state, you can get an average man fully equipped, with his unit, and mobilized, in less than 24 hours. Backing him are anything from a few days of training, to a month worth of training, on an annual basis after his 3 year service.

 

Without some form of conscription, the IDF loses a significant portion of its reservists.

I think the debate then turns on how effective the reservists are going to be, which slots right into the heart of this discussion.

 

If your professional forces are 10 times more effective then reservists (who are in turn twice as effective as people taken off the street and given whatever is in the armoury) then it might be worth it to just scale everything back to the bare minimum and send all your citizens to a 6-month familiarization course after high school or something. If your reservists are more useful than that then it still pays to keep whatever readiness you can afford to impose on them.

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, by the way, but I heard that another looming issue for the IDF at present is that the ultra-orthadox folks still all have service exemptions and the government is very politically tied to this. So perhaps getting rid of the draft is also a way to cut the gordian knot?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Vicious_CB said:

Somewhat related to the topic at hand. The good idea fairy ret Maj. Gen. Robert Scales is at it again. 

 

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/02/14/retired-general-train-pay-army-and-marine-infantry-elite-force.html

 

Retired General: Train, Pay Army and Marine Infantry as an Elite Force

In an interview with Military.com, retired Army Major General Robert Scales, a combat veteran who received the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, suggested that the task force is aiming quite high in its quest for improved combat efficiency. In fact, Major General Scales envisions turning all infantrymen into Rangers.

“Infantry is not a branch – 0311s, 11Bs (respectively the infantry military occupational specialities [MOS] for the Marines Corps and Army) – it’s not that. It’s a function. It’s those people on the ground who have line of sight of the enemy and kill them face to face,” said Major General Scales. “Secretary Mattis said from the very beginning…the only way this will work is if we treat close combat as an excepted function. If we build that functionality into the task force, it will work. If we fail to do it, if we fall back and treat the infantry as just another branch, it won’t work.”

 

I read either that article or another one in which he says basically the same thing. One of the rare cases where I will agree with him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Sturgeon said:

 

I read either that article or another one in which he says basically the same thing. One of the rare cases where I will agree with him.

 

I just dont think is feasible to have 55,000 ranger trained soldiers. There just isnt enough qualified soldiers to fill the ranks, if you water down the selection and training process then they arent elite anymore. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, Vicious_CB said:

 

I just dont think is feasible to have 55,000 ranger trained soldiers. There just isnt enough qualified soldiers to fill the ranks, if you water down the selection and training process then they arent elite anymore. 

 

Some things you would leave out. The Rangers operate much more independently than Marines do. So there would be far fewer training-hours in a lot of ways. I'll have to find the article I thought was good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Didn’t we already go through this “every soldier is a ranger” nonsense when whatsis face forced everyone in the Army to start wearing a black beret?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder how much more of an armed force could be made "elite," for whatever value of "elite" you choose, if you had sports medicine/hormone therapy/stem cell magic that could wring another 10 years of peak performance out of them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Collimatrix said:

I wonder how much more of an armed force could be made "elite," for whatever value of "elite" you choose, if you had sports medicine/hormone therapy/stem cell magic that could wring another 10 years of peak performance out of them.

 

As well as advancements in exosuit tech like in the (non exploding) infantry hardware thread. Even the passive leg and back supports that the Russians use are somewhat effective, so soldiers can carry more weight, which could mean more armor and/or sensors/equipment. Scout or supplementary combat drones would also improve a soldiers effectiveness in many combat settings. However, this would also make individual warriors more expensive, and would require more training to properly operate and maintain said equipment, which would naturally translate to fewer but better warriors. 

 

In general, I am part of the quality > quantity crowd, up to a point (see Battle of Thermopylae). However, as @Toxn referenced in the OP, and similar engagements I’ve heard of between SFs and irregulars/conscripts, the better trained (and equipped) forces will slaughter the opposition in most cases. With the advancements in technology (and hopefully tactics and strategy), I can only see this efficiency gap getting larger. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...