Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version
It may seem a long way from the cities and forests of Eastern Europe, but the jungle holds lessons for everyone.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provided a unique opportunity to observe a peer-on-peer force in Eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War. The war is turning into a proving ground for new technology and tactics, with weapons and training being provided to both sides from around the globe. Ukraine, and to a degree, Russia, have been quick to adapt to how these future wars will be fought whilst Western countries can only observe from the sidelines and attempt to learn.
So, how, then, as observers in this conflict, can foreign militaries best prepare themselves to ensure they are set up for success? Although the character of warfare may change over the years with the introduction of new technologies, the nature of conflict essentially remains the same. Due to this, some of the answers to this question, and certainly something we need to consider, is found in the jungles around the globe and in tactics refined from fighting small conflicts in Malaya and Borneo.
Although many benefits from training in close country tropical environments (CCTE) could be highlighted ranging from physical and mental robustness to marksmanship and personal administration, this article highlights three that are particularly pertinent. These are dispersed movement at the sub-unit level, deception, and communication to show how jungle tactics and skills could be used more widely.
Many vignettes of recce strike have come out of Ukraine where large bodies of troops and equipment were found in the open and subsequently destroyed by indirect fires. With the addition of small and easy to produce uncrewed systems, the kill cycle has been reduced. In some instances, to within 4 minutes of a target being spotted it has been engaged by indirect fire.
Due to this, the focus is shifting to what can be termed as move independently and fight together. We must minimise our footprint by spreading our forces over a wide area, only moving and coming together to carry out a direct action before dispersing again. For this to be successful commanders need to have the confidence that their subordinates will reach RV points on time and be able to conduct the next action. Low level commanders need to have the ability to navigate independently across unfamiliar terrain and the confidence to deal with situations without direction from their one up, remaining within their intent.
However, dispersed movement isn’t a new concept. For years, in the jungles of South East Asia, under the guidance of the UK Jungle Warfare Division, troops have been trained how to operate with widely dispersed forces. Here, section commanders quickly have to gain the confidence to be able to navigate and operate away from their commanders in order to achieve their aim.
As an example, a recce patrol, which would normally take a couple of hours on a UK training area, could potentially take days in the jungle. All this is done with no direct support and with limited communications. More training in the jungle skills can empower our junior commanders and give them the tools for successful dispersed movement.
Soldiers are also able to employ deception tactics taken again from the jungle. The use of natural foliage to cover kit when stopped and fish hooking when occupying in all round defence or a snap ambushes. These are incremental gains that could be employed to deceive the enemy but are arguably less effective against technical collection.
Harder to hide, however, are the vehicles that even light-role infantry are heavily dependent on. Especially for logistics support. In addition, the jungle provides examples of best practice that relevant here as well. For example, driving vehicles into a woodblock before reversing along the same track into a previously identified position, or use of the side step method, masks the vehicle’s intent and prevents arial detection.
Furthermore, ingrained into jungle training is the need to take off your bergen and cover it with natural foliage every time you stop and to constantly reapply cam cream. Apply this same diligence, but on a large scale with the vehicles, can degrade an opponent’s ability to collect on you. The use of thermal sheeting and camouflage nets until it becomes second nature is key. This is where the jungle environment can help.
With electronic warfare becoming a larger part of the battlefield, units can use another technique common to operating in the jungle.
Here we see the use of communication schedules (comms scheds) due to the need to stop and set up antennas capable of covering long distance whilst maintaining the rate of advance and tactical awareness, all whilst not having the ability to charge batteries.
Typically three comm scheds would be sent a day with the higher command maintaining a constant listening watch. Prior to sending a comms sched the formation will use a variety of deception techniques before occupying a secure location. Once sent, a patrol will immediately collapse and continue the patrol or change location if remaining for sometime or overnight.
If we can adapt this to the modern battlefield and move away from the need to transmit everything we are doing or over elaborating we can reduce our electronic signature to absolute minimum. comms scheds used correctly will make it harder for the enemy to identify locations and units, and if detected, the unit would have collapsed and changed location, rendering this information useless.
Reducing heavy battery usage will minimise the need for resupply from more overt vehicles and cut down the usage of the generators needed for charging. As a result, it reduces the overall thermal signature of the unit and movement of traffic between the fighting echelon and A1.
Throughout history we have seen tactics and ideas taken from one theatre of operations and applied successfully to ones that differ completely. Most notably, Wingate’s use of long-range penetration, conceived in Ethiopia, to such great effect in the jungles of Burma.
The Land Operating Concept states in order to survive we need to: “Prioritise protection. Aware of the danger of being observed by drones or electronic surveillance and then struck by long-range missiles, fighting forces will disperse, deceive and conceal themselves ingeniously.”
Although perhaps a new concept, especially on paper, it may not need a complete rethink or redesign of how we already operate.
The war in Ukraine has provided an opportunity to observe how we need to adapt and change but there shouldn’t be a rush to change too many things too soon. Instead, investment in our commanders and transferring and adapting already learnt skills and tactics to suit the plains of Eastern Europe should be the aim.
Although the trees are greater and the threat is different, the jungles of Southeast Asia and Central America could prove to be the key to success in this new age of warfare.