Last night on the 3rd of April I was digging through various articles from news sites and think-tanks on the current situation of the Canadian army reserve (or the Reserves in general). This action was sparked by a bit of news I had heard in regards to the Reserves losing a lot of people in quick succession without the recruitment numbers to replace them. Now this is going into the: “Military Hypothetical” section rather than: “The Rhetoric” because this is more of a supposed strategy rather than a rant – let us begin.
The Mackenzie Institute (think tank) published an article that discussed how the leadership of the Army is unable to adjust their expectations when it comes to the Reserves, and that part-time soldiers often are stuck choosing between their civilian careers and their military careers – the difficulty lies in that most leadership courses and professional development courses are geared towards full-time soldiers rather than part-time, thereby causing a lot of part-time soldiers to release voluntarily and thus costing the Reserves valuable experience and manpower. This issue is further compounded by the fact that 80% of soldiers are students and after 5 years of schooling they leave to focus on civilian careers (being in school for 5 years being the average time they spend in the Reserves).
The article goes on to say that the army needs to tailor the reserve training to reservists, citing that a reservist going on course only needs a certain subset of skills while his or her regular force (full time) counterpart needs the entire course – there are differences in capabilities and responsibilities. Indeed the full time soldier will use and practice all of the skills whereas the reservist may only need a handful of skills to get the job done in their capacity. Therefore, the article continues, the army needs and must develop a mindset that reservists only fulfill certain key roles, and that this drive to have full time and part time interchangeable is unsustainable and could hurt the army reserve in the long run.
Right well this isn’t surprising that the army is unable to adjust to change; traditionally the military has been resistant to change and it takes a while for the army to adopt new ideas and put them into action – we see that in World War 1 when generals scoffed at the idea of small unit tactics or the tank being the replacement for cavalry, and we see that in World War 2 with different tank doctrines early in the war and we all know how well that went for some of the participating nations.
Part time soldiers have unique stresses in their lives, and when you factor that in you must – MUST – ensure that their training covers the topics that they need to be familiar with rather than commands’ idea of what they “should” be familiar with. Core skills and professional development can only occur if a soldier has access to these opportunities, otherwise you see the Reserves fail in their mandate to provide additional manpower to the regulars in times of need. Sure the idea of them being interchangeable with the full time army is nice, but that is not entirely possible given the different challenges each member faces in their respective branch per se; full time soldiers can train regularly and are paid accordingly, whereas a part time soldier often has to rely on their civilian careers to allow them to contribute to the army reserve as the reserve pay is never enough to cover bills, expenses, gas and the mortgage.
The reality of relying on citizen-soldiers must also come with the understanding that these men and women have different objectives and challenges – the sooner they realize that the better. Now the suggestion for overhaul is as follows: separate the reserves from the regular force and cater training towards the reserves’ mandate of domestic emergency response and augmentation. Augmentation of regular troops can be done by simply providing staff members to units or soldiers to field units of which they will be subordinate to full time leaders for the sake of convenience. The part time soldiers will still have the basic skills, but because of their specialization the regular forces will need to take the lead when conducting operations and they will need to know the limitations of said units.
Next let us look at the supplementary reserve – a sub-component of the Canadian Forces reserves that is home to a list of standby soldiers who are inactive and are only available for emergency call ups. Break down the supplementary reserves into two categories: active and inactive. The Inactive component should still have to take refresher training annually for two weeks in the summer much like how the French army did during the years leading up to the First World War – this way the soldiers are more than ready to step in and require minimal work up. Next have a civil defense militia; while Canadian Rangers cover remote areas of Canada, the civil defense militia can provide static defensive manpower to the primary reserve (the part time soldiers actively training), and additional manpower ready and able in aid to civil authorities when it is not suggested to send in the primary reserve (lack of funding, long mobilization time, etc) – they will operate primarily in urban and suburban areas (including small towns). The civil defense militia will initially provide arms and ammunition out of the member’s own pockets (civilian firearms – this will require militia members to possess a firearms license) but will receive basic uniforms and webbing and be reimbursed for the equipment used while on exercises and operations in support of the Canadian Forces (kind of like the Canadian Rangers except not in remote parts of the country) – otherwise they are about as militia-like as they can be, and aside from minimal training will function as extra hands and heads for civil authorities.
The added bonus of this strategy is cost savings; relying solely on full time soldiers means a country is trapped in a cycle of spending that increases as time goes on. Indeed if we can gather interest and engage the general public in doing more for their country than vote and pay taxes then we can successfully achieve this objective and it would save the government of Canada millions of dollars in expenses overall. A small core of full time soldiers, and a massive reserves and militia – this way manpower will not be of issue, and when a war breaks out or a disaster strikes the mobilization costs will be offset by the fact that once the members are compensated for their time afterwards the expenses go away as members simply re-enter the civilian workforce and go on from there.
The Reserves needs an overhaul if it is to survive a changing society – this lack of interest from the Canadian government has historically been the norm, and continues into this day. Therefore rather than calling for a massive military apparatus, let us call for a large reserve force which is not only minimal on cost to the government, but can also solve the issues of manpower shortages and enables the government to have on hand ready and willing members to call upon when needed.
Attrition and Retention in the Reserves (The Mackenzie Institute):
Some fresh-out-of-college kid who partied their way through 4 years should not get to become a Lieutenant in a military that relies on all parts to work together (and properly) in order to fulfill its mission. Enlisted soldiers who show potential should be chosen over these fancy paper holders who have no real value beyond the fact that they graduated from university and can now brag about their achievements however minimal they truly are in reality.
NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers), especially senior NCOs like Staff Sergeants and so forth have to listen to these fresh butter bars (Second Lieutenants; the colour of their collar bars is gold hence the nickname) who may be smart if they listen to their senior NCO who grooms them for leadership, but ultimately they are in charge and get to be the boss from day 1 while the senior NCO who is the backbone of the armed forces has to listen to these brats – does that sound right to you?
Sure it may be a meritocracy in name: go to school and become an Lieutenant. Yet it isn’t a meritocracy when money is involved, it becomes a plutocracy where wealth determines everything (just let me rant here folks; one can argue that it is a meritocracy in that if you are willing to go into debt to earn your degree than your merit shines over your financial situation. I disagree that one has to go into debt to get ahead but everyone is entitled to their opinion – I am entitled to write mine here). Indeed the military would be wise to promote those who show potential to become officers rather than keep this ancient class-based rank structure that has lasted beyond its time.
Back in the day officers came from the nobility; wealth meant that they could go to college and their blood (that was the concept) meant that they were born to lead no matter the opinion of the common man. Today we know that to be a lie, and if we are to live up to modern values than this system of preferential treatment of university graduates over college or trade school grads who show leadership potential (even high school grads who seem fit to lead can be taught how to lead) has to pass into the pages of history. The United Kingdom does not have a requirement for officer candidates to possess a university degree, they just have to pass the selection course and attend the military academies that dot the country.
Commissioning from the ranks also saves money in that a candidate with leadership potential can go through OCS (Officer candidate school) and enter the service without the whole expensive testing that takes place in order to select fresh-off-the-street university kids who might even quit halfway – at least if the NCO quits it is not a total loss.
Ultimately what I am proposing is commission from the ranks more than recruit for officers via direct entry. Yes certain fields like medicine and legal professions need direct entry, but for logistics, combat, and other military-specific tasks promotions from within helps the organization to grow and gives young lads and ladies a chance to become better than their starting point – something many who wish to do so cannot afford to and thus end up stuck in the lower ranks for the entirety of their career. Why limit officer jobs to those who can afford to apply; open it up just like the rest of the government and make it so that people have a chance to truly live and breathe a meritocracy and its values rather than dream of one; dreams usually end when one wakes up.
Now I know what you are thinking after reading the title: “absurd Writer, horses are useless in modern warfare – Cavalry died off ages ago and mounted infantry would be useless in the face of armoured vehicles and tanks!” True in conventional warfare the horse has outlived its usefulness, but what about asymmetrical warfare?
Imagine for a minute here a force of mounted riflemen trained in guerrilla warfare, part of a nation’s armed forces that is deployed deep into enemy territory with the use of horses which do not need to rely on oil transported with the column (they can drink from any riverbed assuming the water is clean and safe), they can travel through difficult terrain where even the best off-road vehicle may become stuck, and they can help the light infantry soldier carry his gear (weapons, food, ammo, sleeping gear and of course the odd anti-tank rocket or two). Sure the infantry soldiers can carry it on their own backs, but having a horse to use for transportation of things like Javelin rockets, RPGs and so forth can prove wonders for energy preservation – though hygiene might be a problem.
Mounted infantry do not fight on horseback, rather they simply use the animal to transport themselves and their gear through rough terrain. Even if they could conduct raids at night it would be a waste if the enemy had night vision capabilities (and it is always better to assume that the enemy is properly equipped; we carry this until better intel becomes available). The soldiers would use the horses to travel through dense forests, mountainous regions and so forth and dismount when it is time to engage the enemy. Using long-ranged weaponry and stealth the troops would employ hit-and-run tactics against the enemy and avoid conventional forces when they present themselves. Certainly a column of horses will leave a trail here and there, but the footprint will be less visible compared to wheeled vehicles and loud, noisy engines (though animals can be noisy too – you choose which is less noisy).
Ultimately what I am proposing with this is using horses for asymmetrical warfare; when you need a mobile force to take the fight to the enemy and cannot afford to re-supply them with drums of fuel dropped out of the back of an airplane perhaps mounted infantry might be the way forward. Often in the past animals have been used to scout and transport when it comes to warfare, and even though we will not employ the horse as part of a direct assault on enemy positions at least the horse can offer us relief for our aching backs and sore feet on long marches – give the commander a mobile asset to use behind enemy lines in order to reduce the enemy’s ability to project past their established positions via harassment. Striking supply depots, columns and so forth before disappearing into the wilderness will help a force lacking in conventional warfighting vehicles and so forth put up a credible resistance against an incoming enemy army.
Alright folks take it easy, I am not suggesting we adopt this policy wholesale and throw away years of military experience with semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles just because of this post – the purpose of this post is just to play around with the idea of using a bolt action rifle (like in World War 1 and 2) as a regular infantry combat rifle in today’s military setting. Find this unrealistic and not something you want to read? Click on a different article then, for the rest of us it’s play time!
Here we are at a point where modern ammunition is not powerful enough to penetrate – say – a concrete wall or sandbag fortification, the soldier needs a better weapon with more punch. Looking back at older firearms we see large calibers used in the lever action and bolt action days, and to the benefit of a skilled marksman at the time these rifles could hit targets way into the distance – quite the lovely benefit. Now a few weeks back I ran into this question and did some reading on the ‘what if’ scenario; what if we used bolt action rifles not as specialized sniper rifles, but as regular battle rifles in today’s modern armies?
Successfully utilizing a bolt action rifle will take a lot of training and practice to master, along with a high level of physical fitness for maneuvering around enemies with M16s (for example) which boast a higher rate of fire. Indeed the troopers using the bolt action rifles, while holding something with a lot of punch, are outgunned by a force that uses full autos and their superior rate of fire. Thus the army that takes on bolt action rifles must adopt special gear to the rifle and to the soldier in order to overcome this handicap. Right now the main reason for using rifles like the M4 (technically a carbine but bear with me) and the M16 service rifles is rate of fire and utility – they can be used for room clearing, close quarters, and mid-range combat. Back before World War 1, armies engaged one another across large open fields where distances were further apart – for close quarters it was bayonets, rifle butts, and knives.
Now the specialized equipment will be in the form of grenade launchers mounted on the rifle’s muzzle like how the M1 Garand had it’s launcher mounted. Soldiers would be given kits that helped to convert their rifles into grenade launchers and back again so that they can use heavy ordinance to overcome enemy positions; a fox hole full of M16-wielding riflemen can die just as easily from a grenade as a fox hole filled with soldiers using old bolt-action rifles. Then there are hand-held grenades like flashbangs, tear gas grenades and so on that can neutralize the enemy’s ability to use their fast-firing rifles, and so long as the bolt-action rifle shoots first while the enemy is still suffering from the effects of the flashbang it can tip the fight in the favour of the bolt-action rifleman.
Room clearing is going to be tough regardless, but short-barreled versions of the rifles (ie: Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine) can be used to fill in the gap, or even as the standard-issue rifle (because long Lebels used by the French are no fun in close quarters). Again flashbangs will help neutralize the enemy, but then there are the multiple contacts within the room – even with a 4 man squad you could be at a disadvantage; this is where the bayonet comes into play. Fix bayonets, deploy the flashbangs, and move in to get the drop on the bad guys. Should you confirm the room is filled with hostiles, flashbang, take a peek, then frag grenade the room and finish off the survivors – an enemy soldier cannot fight back if it has eaten a chunk of a fragmentation grenade.
Bolt manipulation is another aspect that will require a lot of work. Like the English Longbow of old, the bolt-action rifle will require hours of practice in order to achieve speed and rate of fire. Obviously gun design is also helpful, but I’ve seen people shoot Lee Enfields nice and slow before and it isn’t too encouraging. Thus in order to overcome the enemy’s rate of fire, bolt manipulation needs to be worked on every day until a certain rate of fire can be achieved.
Right now comes the hard part, physical fitness. Sure soldiers work on their fitness regularly, but the enemy has assault rifles (machine guns will be covered briefly later in this article) – I’m not saying run in front of it, but you will need speed and endurance to run AROUND the bloody things. Thus – like the police force – there should be an emphasis on anaerobic fitness as well as aerobic fitness. Being able to sprint at a moment’s notice and outrun the enemy’s traverse speed per se is key to being able to knock out their firing positions. Grenades (fire, frag, flashbang, smoke, and tear) must be deployed quickly in order to neutralize the threat – otherwise the soldier is just playing a very dangerous game of baseball there the pitcher holds all the cards and running from one point to another is like running from one plate to the next with no effect on the pitcher other than they are annoyed that they cannot hit you with their fully automatic assault rifle.
Now for positions equipped with Browning 50 Cal. and Squad Automatic Weapons (SAW) just throw in a incendiary grenade and be done with it (not like they can shoot you when they are on fire and screaming). Again, the grenade attachment is your best friend in this situation.
Next we arrive at positioning and the element of surprise. Today the only forces out there that use bolt action rifles are generally ad hoc militias who must make use of whatever is available. They, however, utilize superior positions and surprise to overcome an enemy force – after all ambushes are chaotic, and if the enemy can drop you before you can get your bearings, they win (assuming you and whoever else is with you are dead). Bolt action rifles should not charge directly at an enemy position as their rate of fire is insufficient to provide covering fire against enemy assault rifles.
Drawing upon the strengths of the rifle once more, we look at engagement distance. Like Sun Tzu once said: “Those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle. They are not brought by him.” Drawing the enemy out into an area where you are are your strongest is most advisable for a force utilizing bolt-action rifles. The stopping power and distance of the rifles is what will help you win when the enemy is holding a firearm chambered in 5.56 NATO (for example). Stopping them dead with one shot is better than having to empty 15 out of 30 of your rounds just to stop a single guy (though getting shot hurts no matter the caliber, so just hit the target already – body armor not factored in for this example).
Finally I just wanted to briefly touch on the design of the rifle. Design of a modern bolt action battle rifle must be short, must hold at least 10 rounds, and must have a bolt mechanism that is fast and smooth. Soldiers are already at a disadvantage when fighting against an enemy with semi or fully automatic assault rifles (we’re focusing on fully automatic for today, but I wanted to state the semi-autos for the record), so an army looking to put into service a bolt action in this computerized age should always ensure that the rifle is as fast to fire as possible, hold at least ten rounds (12 is also a good number, and 14 is ideal), is short for close quarters, and is light enough for the soldier to carry around for a very long time (especially if they are light infantry). Older designs like the Lee Enfield can still be useful in today’s world, and indeed there is no shame in copying and mass-producing a similar bolt design in order to enable soldiers to perform their tasks with relative ease.
There you go nations low on money and looking for a cheap solution to fight low intensity wars, pull out the list of companies that manufacture bolt action rifles and order a good few hundred thousand – it can be much cheaper than buying full autos, and you can trust your soldiers with the ammo as the bolt action rifle usually has little waste when it comes to rounds fired verses rounds fired and hit target (it’s a green, environmentally friendly rifle – yay!). Putting aside this long discussion piece, today’s modern combat doctrine will not allow bolt action rifles to become the main service arm for armies. The poor rate of fire coupled with the length of the rifle and the inflexibility of the weapon make it less attractive to armies looking for something that can suppress the enemy quickly, and allow the battlefield to move verses digging in and firing away at one another – times change, and those of us who love surplus firearms and the good old rifles must remember that we are shooting for fun (recreationally and or for hunting), and not for combat – that is a whole different ballgame altogether.