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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is Infantry Obsolete?

I want to make it clear that commando raids and the like have been and will most likely continue to be useful.
What I mean by infantry are large units of lightly-armed ground troops sent to attack, defend, or occupy.

I think infantry in the 21st century will vanish as cavalry did in the 20th century. Consider the following:

Infantry units move too slowly and are too weak to be of much use in modern warfare. They can't defend themselves against tanks or aircraft without special weapons while tanks, artillery, and aircraft can attack infantry with impunity. About the only thing infantry are good for is fighting other infantry, and they do that worse than aircraft, tanks, or artillery.

I know there have been many cases were infantry have disabled tanks with grenades or heavy weapons and similar cases with aircraft, but those are rare. Tanks, artillery, and aircraft have destroyed far more tanks than infantry. Aircraft & anti-aircraft artillery have destroyed far more aircraft than infantry.

Since infantry are so vulnerable, they require constant support from aircraft and artillery to move and attack. When they lack that, about all they can do is dig in and hope the enemy either gives up or sends their infantry at them. Infantry can be useful in hit-and-run attacks against supply convoys, but not much else. Even when they have support, they are still vulnerable to ambushes, booby traps, and snipers. Booby traps counted for almost half of US combat deaths during the Vietnam War.

The 20th century saw many examples of large infantry units getting slaughtered during an attack. The battles of WWI were probably the best examples of this. I would think this would put a stop to the practice of infantry assaults just as the Charge of the Light Brigade effectively put an end to cavalry assaults.

Even a successful infantry attack like D-Day required massive air and naval bombardment plus a ruse to lure away the German heavy units. And in spite of all that, there were still massive casualties. If the Germans had had sufficient air support that day or fortified the beaches more, the Allies would have been creamed.

I understand the romantic attachment to infantry. For most of history, infantry were the backbone of armies. Times have changed however. Armies stopped using horses after motor vehicles were invented and stopped using bows and arrows after firearms were invented.

But aren't infantry still useful in a counterinsurgency war like in Afghanistan? Well, it's been 12 years and the Taliban still have not been defeated, despite being outnumbered & outgunned. Their main battlefield success involves killing US infantry. If there was no infantry there, the Taliban would have almost nothing to attack.

The history of the 20th century shows that the worst way to fight infantry is with other infantry. It's time to stop risking the lives of these soldiers out of fondness for some outdated & fictional notion of chivalry.

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