For most of human history, the infantry has made up the bulk of every army’s combat power. Often derided as cannon fodder, or apparently replaced by another arm – cavalry seemed set to usurp them in medieval Europe, for example – the foot soldier has always fought his way back into the limelight. The armored cavalry of France were cut down in their thousands by England’s longbowmen, and well-armed US and Allied infantry managed to slow and halt panzer columns in Nazi Germany’s last counter-attacks.
At the end of the day, the infantry has always triumphed, because they’re the only troops that can both take and hold ground. Artillery can deliver deep fires, but can’t defend itself. Tanks can punch through enemy lines, but are hopelessly vulnerable without infantry support. UAVs and attack helicopters allow constant all-weather surveillance of the battlefield, but need secure ground to operate from. Only the infantry is completely self-contained, and at the end of the day everyone else is there to support them. But is that changing?
Advances in technology and increasingly risk-averse politicians look to be challenging the infantry’s dominance once again. Using a UAV-fired missile to kill an insurgent might be controversial, but for a commander anxious to avoid casualties at any cost, it looks like a better option than committing ground troops. Where boots on the ground are necessary, there’s an accelerating trend of handing the job to Special Forces. Is the infantryman going to find himself underemployed on future battlefields?
Almost certainly not. The US military is now trained for a broader spectrum of warfighting than ever before. Brigade combat teams are ready to take on anything from a high intensity battle against a mechanized opponent to a peacekeeping mission. Only the infantry has the flexibility to swing between these diverse roles at a moment’s notice. A squad can be distributing emergency supplies to villagers, then instantly respond to a changing situation and launch an assault on an enemy fire position.
This flexibility applies right across the board. Through the Cold War the army trained to fight Soviet tank armies in Germany, and armor and artillery seemed dominant. At the same time, in all the wars the US Army fought in it was the infantry – mostly light infantry – who did the work. Armor can’t operate in urban areas without close support and definitely isn’t appropriate if you want the town to be standing when you’re finished. Infantry can work there easily, or deploy into the surrounding countryside using the same equipment and basic tactics. They might lack operational mobility but they’re the only real “go-anywhere” force on the battlefield.
What’s definitely true is that the infantry of the future will be more highly trained and adaptable than ever before. We’ve already seen this trend emerge in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our foot soldiers need to combine the skills of rifleman, policeman and diplomat to operate effectively in a complex, fast-changing environment. They’ve risen to the challenge as well as anyone could expect; clearly the men – and now women, too – who’ve achieved so much are a lot more than just expendable grunts. In every conflict we’re likely to join over the next decade or more, the core of our force will be well trained, superbly equipped and highly motivated infantry – the real rulers of the battlefield.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.